"The day of his death, at the beginning of 1996, Ricardo Laverde had spent the morning walking the narrow sidewalks of La Candelaria, in the center of Bogota, between old houses with clay roof tiles and unread marble plaques with summaries of historic events, and around one in the afternoon he showed up at the billiards club on 14th Street, ready to play a couple of games with some of the regulars."
The final minutes of Ricardo Laverde's life are about to have a profound effect on Antonio Yammara. As a young college instructor, Antonio's life is good. Or at least it's as good as it can be in the troubled South American city. He has a job he enjoys, a pleasant apartment, and the company of women when he wants it. But in the seconds it takes for Ricardo to die, Antonio's good fortune takes a devastating tumble.
Why did this happen? Antonio realizes that he has little idea of his friend Ricardo's past. With the intimacy of death weighing him down, Antonio embarks on a journey to understand, at least a little bit, how Ricardo ended up dying as he did. He travels not only physically, from Bogota, but from the present day into a long-ago time, when Pablo Escobar ruled the drug trade. But could his friend really have been involved in that dark, twisted and violent part of society? Antonio finds it hard to believe.
Through research, talks with family members, letters --- really, everything he can dig up --- he turns Ricardo into a living, breathing soul once again. Antonio gets to know the man as he never had a chance to when he was alive. The people whose lives Ricardo touched, the people he left behind, even the people he hurt, all help Antonio work through his own personal demons. And he has many where once he had none. In one instant, so much was altered: his present, his future, maybe even his past. He must figure out how to move forward, or everything he holds dear may disappear. It is a monumental task he faces.
For years, Antonio searches for answers. What he doesn't seem to realize is that they don't matter nearly as much as grasping what he already has. If THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING does nothing else, it will teach you the value of the blessings you have and remind you never to take things for granted. Life can change in the wink of an eye or the flash of a gun barrel.
Writing with a mournful, unapologetic tone, Juan Gabriel Vásquez enmeshes his readers in a wretched period of Colombia's history. He takes an in-your-face approach and tells a story that is not pretty. You will come away uncomfortable, disturbed even, but you will have discovered an empathy for the generations that lost so much to the dawn of the drug lords. This story will touch you in ways you wouldn't believe possible and make you think. So suspend your light summer reading for this meaty hunk of a novel right now.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers