Sometimes there is a moment or event, beyond your control, that changes your life. I specify beyond your control because there are several events that will change your life that you can choose – marriage, family, career – but there are many you can’t – abandonment, violence, death. This post focuses on the latter*.
So what changed you? I can, without a doubt, say that the event that shaped my life was my adoption as an older child**. It changed how I define the meaning of family. It changed my living conditions, things like access to health care, food, and school. It changed the way I think and feel. For a long time, it affected my ability to trust people and fostered my need for independence. It continues to challenge my sense of self-worth. One decision, in which I did not get a say, forever changed my life.
This is a focus of Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s intense, thought-provoking new novel, ‘The Sound of Things Falling’: the idea that one decision can change the course of your life. That one decision by one person can have a ripple effect on the bystanders. A relationship can begin with something as simple as a brief conversation. That conversation, that decision to speak to someone, can change your life in ways you could never even imagine.
Now that many years have passed, now that I remember with the benefit of an understanding I didn’t have then, I think of that conversation and it seems implausible that its importance didn’t hit me in the face. (And I tell myself at the same time we’re terrible judges of the present moment, maybe because the present doesn’t actually exist: all is memory, this sentence that I just wrote is already a memory, this word is a memory that you, reader, just read.)
And Antonio Yammara never imagined that his casual friendship with Ricardo Laverde would get him shot. He didn’t imagine that he would be walking with his friend and that the two of them would be ruthlessly gunned down. Laverde dies, Yammara doesn’t. Initially, he might as well have. For three years, he continually relives his trauma. He continually lives in fear. In order to move on, he searches for the reason behind the attack on Laverde. His quest takes him through the turmoil of Columbia’s, and particularly Bogota’s, recent history (1960’s-1990’s) and the ramifications one person’s downfall can have on everyone who surrounds him. Although the novel is never plot-driven, it is a mystery unfolded by and in the narrator’s painful inner world.
‘The Sound of Things Falling’ is a beautiful, melancholy novel. It also serves as a contemporary history of Columbia. By no means do I think the novel is an actual history, but it examines the psyche of those who lived through the country’s turmoil, how the presence of the past can haunt you, and how the decisions of others will change your life.
Adulthood brings with it the pernicious illusion of control, and perhaps even depends on it. I mean that mirage of dominion over our own life that allows us to feel like adults, for we associate maturity with autonomy, the sovereign right to determine what is going to happen to us next. Disillusion comes sooner or later, but it always comes, it doesn’t miss an appointment, it never has. When it arrives we receive it without too much surprise, for no one who lives long enough can be surprised to find their biography has been molded by distant events, by other people’s wills, with little or no participation from our own decisions.
Columbia serves as a brutal (yet beautiful) geographic backdrop to the novel. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is a very gifted writer and the translation seems flawless (as done by Anne McLean). The book is not without issues. At times it is a bit heavy on the metaphors and it is perhaps too melancholy, but neither is notable enough to discourage its reading. Overall, ‘The Sound of Things Falling***’ is an important, compelling novel. 4.5/5, I’d highly recommend it for fans of literary fiction.
Food is not the focus of this novel, there is very little mention of it. Since it is almost autumn and I’m in the mood for soup, I thought I’d recommend a Colombian recipe – Ajiaco Bogotano (from Hungry Sofia).
*Another post that’s a bit on the serious, personal side – so apologies and thanks. It is just that type of book – a little dark, very melancholy, and incredibly thought-provoking.
**It’s worth noting that despite everything, I have a decent relationship with my mother (though I never did with my father, who died when I was 19). We’re not the type to talk on the phone every day by any means, but we get along fine.
***I received this book in exchange for my honest review.