January 8, 2014

Book Club: The Sound of Things Falling

Latin America literature falls in two categories. The magical realism that made Gabriel Garcia Marquez famous and the novels with a twinge of historical fiction. Roberto Bolano is really in his own category regarding Latin American fiction. I read the more historical fiction novels because quite frankly I just can't stand magical realism.

Latin American novels with a historical backgrounds are some of the most fascinating books to me because I'm fascinated with the history of Latin American. Latin America of the Cold War era was ruled by dictators, drug lords, and military junta's. Read Tim Weiner's "Legacy of Ashes" and you'll see every few pages or so the CIA being involved in this assassination or that coup in a different Latin American country. And for some sick reason I find this history fascinating*. 

*I should probably get help, right? 

Now historical fiction in Latin American falls into two category's. There are the true historical fiction books involving the old dictators like Tomas Martinez's novel "Peron" and Mario Vargas Llosa's "The Feast of the Goat". And now we're seeing the new Latin American historical fiction involving memory of the dictator days like Juan Gabriel Vasquez's book "The Sound of Things Falling".

The novel surrounds Antonio's painful memories. The newly married and father Antonio is a professor of law in Bogota, Colombia. He goes to a pool hall where he meets a man named Richardo Laverde who tells Antonio his past as a pilot, his release from prison, and the death of his wife in a plane crash. And that's when things start falling apart for Antonio.

Antonio and Laverde are shot in a drive-by. Laverde is killed and Antonio is injured. Soon after that Antonio's marriage starts falling apart and he meets Laverde's daughter, Maya. Maya wants to know more about her father Laverde because he spent time in prison drug running for the Colombia cartels while Maya went back to the United States with her mother. Her mother is killed on her way back to Colombia to reunite with Laverde and Maya has gotten ahold of the black box on the plane that her mother was on.

Memory is a big part of this story but also mediation. Meditation on Colombia's drug past. Of Pablo Escobar's Colombia. There's a particular scene where Antonio and Maya visit an old zoo that Escobar built that was once filled with exotic animals. Most of them have died because of neglect, but when they visit there's a hippo on the loose.

Vasquez has carefully constructed a beautiful story built on memory and meditation with characters that you feel deeply for looking back at the past. And the past in Colombia is a dark place like it was for much of Latin America during the Cold War era.

And that is what makes Latin American literature of today very fascinating. Writers like Llosa and Martinez were too close to the dictatorship era. They lived through that horrible past while writers like Vasquez live with only the memory. And with the memory beautifully constructed books like "The Sound of Things Falling" is what you get. 

1 comment:

  1. The reasons why you like Latin American literature is the reason why I've never liked it. I guess it depends on who you are and what fascinates you. I went to college with a guy who loved European fiction because it dealt with WW1 & 2. I've always liked middle east fiction and Japanese fiction. I know that's not for everybody though.