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Book review: The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

As an injured law professor digs through his past to begin the "damaging exercise of remembering," Vásquez's novel becomes a painfully lucid consideration of fate.

Photograph: Jessica Lin
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

By Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Riverhead, $28.

“It’s always somewhat dreadful when someone reveals to us the chain that has turned us into what we are,” reflects the narrator of The Sound of Things Falling. “It’s always disconcerting to discover, when it’s another person who brings us the revelation, the slight or complete lack of control we have over our own experience.”

Gracefully translated by Anne McLean, Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s mesmerizing novel centers on Bogotá lawyer Antonio Yammara, who has good reason for questioning notions of self-determination. A young law professor with a pregnant wife, Antonio is wounded during the shooting of Ricardo Laverde, an acquaintance with a drug-smuggling past. The killing unfolds in a gluey, unreal smear, and Antonio awakens maimed in body and mind: impotent, withdrawn and unable to take comfort from a physician’s brisk advice that he keep a diary and tot up “chances” and “statistics” relating to “real” dangers. Then, a magazine story with only the wispiest connection to his life submits Antonio to the “damaging exercise of remembering.”

The story is related partly through Antonio’s eyes, partly through flashbacks, and partly through documents and chronicles he retrieves; with their gaps and outright lies, the tales told by his sources advance and recede, and the seemingly fixed coordinates of Antonio’s life change over time. Masterfully weaving together memories, cultural tides, and the causes grand and small behind human pain, The Sound of Things Falling is a painfully lucid consideration of fate.

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