Saturday, January 11, 2014


Just finished The Sound of Things Falling, a novel by the Colombian writer Juan Gabriel Vasquez.  In the translation, at least, it's a beautifully written story exploring the aftermath of drugs overlord Pablo Escobar's baleful reign over much of that country's recent history.  The toxic effects of the drugs trade are embodied in the characters of Ricardo Laverde, an amateur pilot seduced by the easy money, captured and imprisoned in the US, and eventually murdered on the streets of Bogota, and his American wife, Elena Fritts, originally in Columbia as a Peace Corps volunteer; and the post traumatic stress in their daughter, Maya, and Ricardo's friend, Antonio, who witnesses his murder and narrates the story as a kind of personal, cultural and national exorcism.

At once a profoundly personal self examination and a lyrical reflection on the history, culture and topography of a nation, the novel takes us on a powerfully visual journey through lush mountain landscapes and the bustle of city streets.  There is a dream-like quality to its shifting sequences, the logic of whose movement has more to do with the slow, inevitable process of discovery and revelation than with chronology; and the theme of loss, grief, and regret for an irrecoverable past is examined for its profound emotional resonance in the hearts and minds of those who seek solace from it in a present that seems irremediably desolate.

It is the poetry of it, I believe, and the compassionate humanity, that rescues the tone of the novel from what might otherwise seem bleak.  While not the source of happiness here, it is love--of friends and family, of natural beauty, indeed of country--that elevates the characters out of despair and assures their claim on the reader's care.  For this reader, the book was an adventure into previously unknown territory, a country that I knew previously only as the source of cocaine and the stage for murderous, fratricidal mayhem.  I am glad to have come to know the country better, and to have arrived at a more complex understanding of its turmoil.

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