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The Sound of Things Falling
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2018 Book Discussions > Sound of Things Falling --Parts IV -VI, Whole Book (Spoilers Allowed) (Dec 2018)

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message 1: by Carol (last edited Dec 02, 2018 04:32PM) (new) - added it

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments This thread is the place to share your thoughts about the second half of the novel, as well as comments and questions on the book as a whole. Spoilers are permitted nee welcomed here.

The Guardian's 2012 review starts with these paragraphs: https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...

"Colombians have a term for a genre of fiction that is not picaresque, as in Don Quixote, but 'sicaresque', after the ubiquitous literary figure of the sicario, or hired killer for drug cartels. Among novels in this tradition – whose protagonists tend to die young – are Fernando Vallejo's Our Lady of the Assassins (1994) and Jorge Franco's Rosario Tijeras (1999).

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has chosen a more oblique path to take stock of the effects of 40 years of drug trafficking on his country. When I interviewed him two years ago, he was planning a novel that would "show how the drug trade affects somebody not involved in it; somebody who – like me – has never seen a gramme of coke in his life". The Sound of Things Falling, which won Spain's Alfaguara prize last year, focuses on the bewilderment and fear of a society corrupted and taken over by stealth. It confirms Vásquez's mastery of a sophisticated form of Latin American literary noir that leads the reader through Borgesian labyrinths. In navigating them, with guiding lights ranging from Conrad to Le Carré, his fiction also reveals the role of outsiders in a violent history....


Do you agree? Given that Vasquez expressly rejects magical realism and the name most often mentioned by professional reviewers in reviewing Vasquez' novels is Joseph Conrad, would you describe his prose and approach by reference to Jorge Luis Borges?

How does Vasquez' privileged background - the son of lawyer parents and a lawyer sister, and with a law degree he's never used professionally, who studied LatAm literature at the Sorbonne, then lived in Belgium and then Barcelona for 16 years or so -- influence the themes he emphasizes and those he minimizes or glosses over? Or is it irrelevant?


message 2: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Another review - this one from the Irish Times. This explores particularly the contribution of Ann McLean.

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2292 comments Thanks Carol for the articles/reviews. I much enjoyed the book. Good to know the author agrees that Antonio is a jerk, just as Aura and Maya told him he was. I wonder why he chose to write Antonio that way? I cannot compare his prose and approach to either Conrad or Borges. While I've read both, neither came to mind in reading this novel. As I mentioned in the thread for Parts I-III, the style at the beginning reminded me of Mario Vargas Llosa.

I have no idea how Vasquez' background influenced the book. I'm not sure that someone whose family includes a lot of lawyers is necessarily privileged, just likely to be intelligent. Is there a style that writers who study literature at the Sorbonne show, as I've heard those who attend the University of Iowa Writers Workshop have?

I wonder why Vasquez moved to a third party narrator to tell so much of Ricardo's and Elaine's story, including things they were thinking?

I enjoyed the book. I don't remember how I came to buy it but it was interesting to find that my copy is a first edition, first printing of the English hardcover!


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2292 comments Here's an article about Columbia from today's NY Times concerning the current political climate in the country that might be of interest. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/wo...


message 5: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark | 265 comments As LindaJ notes, Vasquez shifts to omnicience as he tells Elaine's story. This was disconcerting since these details were pretty specifically coming out of the correspondence collected by Maya. I was wondering how Elaine would have slipped a fact such as that Richard would bite her nipples when he came into a letter to her grandmother...


Bretnie | 559 comments I finished the book yesterday and am still mulling over it. There was much that I loved about the book, but also a lot that left me frustrated. Maybe similar to Mark and LindaJ's comments about the changes in storytelling. I thought Antonio sleeping with Maya was not that relevant to the plot, but I was glad that Aura left him.

I'm still thinking about Antonio and Ricardo's two lives and how their stories informed the book. I'll come back with some additional thoughts.


message 7: by Lia (last edited Dec 10, 2018 10:54AM) (new) - added it

Lia Mark wrote: "As LindaJ notes, Vasquez shifts to omnicience as he tells Elaine's story. This was disconcerting since these details were pretty specifically coming out of the correspondence collected by Maya. I w..."

Maybe they sent Maya a box of paperworks including her letters but also other documents too. The nipples thing was disclosed to the government on a form they made volunteers fill out.

Then again, we don’t know if Ricardo and Elaine actually did that. I think it’s implied that Maya imagined, created a pair of people based on whatever fragments she found. She’s a storyteller within a story, there’s a void in her life and she needed to create something to fill it, this is what she “birthed.” (With the help of the otherwise impotent Yammara as ... “midwife”?)


message 8: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia I love the completely random, “absurd” Iliad dissertation request amongst the phone messages. Life is such an absurd collection of senseless chores, some funnier than others.

Especially because that’s the graduation dissertation Vasquez wrote!


message 9: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia Elaine wrote: “this notion of being outside time, seems to be something particular to Latin American writers, as expressing their isolation from the west. ”

This reminds me of the Armadillo-killing, and her mother’s reaction/question:
What a struggle the creature put up, I remember perfectly. Until he stopped struggling. The maid found him later, you should have heard her scream. I was punished. Mom slapped me hard and cut my lip with her ring. Later she asked me why I’d done it and I said, To see how many minutes he could stay under. And Mom answered, Then why didn’t you have a watch? I didn’t know what to say. And that question hasn’t completely gone away, Antonio, it still runs around my head every once in a while, always at the worst moments, when life isn’t working out for me.


It seems even within the same family, the same community, some people are able to just march forward in lockstep with clock-time, stay on schedule, able to respond to (responsible to) modern demands, and leave baggages behind; while others stay stuck in this floating world of “magical” reality in which time is measured only by struggles, by subjective experience, that is impossible to convey, impossible to “make you see.”


message 10: by Mark (last edited Dec 10, 2018 02:13PM) (new) - added it

Mark | 265 comments Lia wrote: "Mark wrote: "As LindaJ notes, Vasquez shifts to omnicience as he tells Elaine's story. This was disconcerting since these details were pretty specifically coming out of the correspondence collected..."

I believe Vasquez has disavowed "magical realism," but all fiction depends on a fairly nuanced use of magic, and The Sound of Things Falling is no exception. The trick (ha ha) is the communicate to the reader fairly early on what the magical rules of the book that is beginning are. When the rules change halfway through, it feels (to me, at least) like cheating. Perhaps the hippo was the tell, but I missed it at the time.

I went back and found why I was so sure the details came from the documents: On P139 (my edition), Vasquez writes, "...when I had been through the documents and their revelations..." and, "The story, as far as I could reconstruct it and as it exists in my memory..."

After this, the magical appearance of, for instance, Ricardo's roving hand as Elaine fills out her Peace Corps questionnaire (p162) niggles at my feeling of how the novel's world works. It is still a transporting story, and I am glad to be reading it, but...


message 11: by Mark (new) - added it

Mark | 265 comments Just finished. Wow. So it presents parallels, and perhaps at the end Antonio is beginning to twig to exactly how parallel his life has been to Ricardo's.

Maya's actions to the armadillo parallel Elaine's actions toward her husband while he was in prison - both killed. I can see a psychological reason for Maya's killing; perhaps she gained a feeling of control over death that the news of her father's death had ripped from her.

Both Antonio and Ricardo held deep love for their partners and daughters, but both kept central parts of their lives private, to their great cost: Ricardo's "One more job" resulted in his death, and Antonio's unannounced trip to see La Dorada resulted in Aura's departure. The details of the cleaned out apartment were heartbreaking. There is just a hint that her departure could be reversed, if Antonio can open his inner life to her more.


message 12: by Lia (new) - added it

Lia It’s interesting that we come away with fairly different interpretations, Mark. I believed in Maya when she said she didn’t mean to kill the armadillo. She heard they can stay alive underwater for a long time, and as a thoughtless child, she submerged it without intending, expecting to kill. Kids find guns and kill people around them all the time, it’s not exactly murder.

I also don’t think Antonio loves Aura — jackass that he is, I think he’s fairly honest in admitting that he just drifted mindlessly into a relationship with Aura and was surprised to find it bearable. She got pregnant and he went along.

His reaction to the “consolador” (vs his casual sex with his students and with Maya) makes me think he’s not being prudish, I didn’t even read that as his masculinity under threat. I suspect that’s when he “wakes up” to the realization that Aura is the kind of (healthy, normal) people who adapt, find comforts and substitutions in consumable products, and are never ever going to understand being sucked into the mental state where they have no choice but to face “the void.”

I think it’s “that void” that made it possible for Maya to finally “compose” her reconstruction, her narrative — it’s because he’s that despearate, that empty, that driven by his “lacking.”

I can’t figure out why Maya called him “a user,” except ironically, Yammara is the narrator, the author of this book. This is his story, even though he’s a purposeless, empty person (nothing seems to matter to him, like Meursault...). He ends up co-opting Maya’s story and made that the climax of his own. Maybe that’s why she called him a “user”? (Funny he also thought to himself that Maya “used” him because she needed someone to listen.)

Not that it’s inappropriate — her story is his story: a story of realizing you’re trapped in this falling, terrifying world, listening to people going about their days, with their seemingly-calm conversations, as if everything is in control, when everything is actually, factually, clearly on a course of sharp decline.


Bretnie | 559 comments Lia wrote: "I can’t figure out why Maya called him “a user,” except ironically, Yammara is the narrator, the author of this book. This is his story, even though he’s a purposeless, empty person (nothing seems to matter to him, like Meursault...). He ends up co-opting Maya’s story and made that the climax of his own. Maybe that’s why she called him a “user”? (Funny he also thought to himself that Maya “used” him because she needed someone to listen.)"

I had this question also. I think my initial thoughts were that he was a user of women. But maybe it's more tied to using Maya and Ricardo's stories as extensions of his own life's story. Being just a general user of people for his own purposes.

A lot of the time I was baffled why he felt like he was such a key person in Ricardo's life - what entitled him access to listening to the tape, to hearing Maya's story? He didn't even really know the guy! But I think he was so desperate for meaning or purpose in his life and was using getting shot and his ties to Ricardo's story to help build his own story.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2292 comments I tend to agree with Lia's interpretation of Antonio. When the book starts, he's much older than when he returns to find Aura and daughter gone. I wonder a bit what's happened to him in that time. Has he matured a bit out of his narcissism?


message 15: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Bretnie wrote: "Lia wrote: "I can’t figure out why Maya called him “a user,” except ironically, Yammara is the narrator, the author of this book. This is his story, even though he’s a purposeless, empty person (no..."

But maybe it's more tied to using Maya and Ricardo's stories as extensions of his own life's story. Being just a general user of people for his own purposes.

I agree with this interpretation. He sees everyone's value in relationship to what they bring and do for or to him.


message 16: by Kay (new) - rated it 3 stars

Kay | 73 comments I just finished the book and am still gathering my thoughts. I liked the beginning of the book much more than the end and the change in narrative annoyed me. I didn't see Antonio mature by the end of the book, which I thought he might as I mentioned in the other thread. I also found his story with Maya predictable and completely unnecessary to the plot.


message 17: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2564 comments Mod
Bretnie wrote: "A lot of the time I was baffled why [Yammara] felt like he was such a key person in Ricardo's life ..."

I struggled with this a lot, as well, to the point where it made the whole book somewhat hard to accept. In a sense, Ricardo becomes a vehicle for Yammara to explore Colombia's violent drug war and how "innocents" like himself become collateral damage, or wounded bystanders. Are we to excuse the main character for being an asshole because he's grown up in a land that demands survival through this kind of self-centeredness? It felt, often, like I was trying to justify the author's narrative decisions as if he had over-reached and I was somehow trying to correct that in my head.

Similar to Kay, I felt the beginning of the book was more interesting, more nuanced maybe, and as it went on it felt more predictable.

Did any of you feel like you got a sense of the violence/danger during this time period? Mostly, it seemed this was conveyed by stories in the news or short lists of incidents making the reality seem more abstract and less personal (aside from Yammara actually being shot).

Overall, I liked the writing and thought it had a kind of enigmatic pull to it, even if it ended up pulling in rather predictable ways (e.g., you knew something was going to happen with Maya and you knew Ricardo was wrapped up in criminal activities, which undercut the suspense--the main character may have needed to find out the exact truth, but as a reader, I felt like I knew it long beforehand and thus didn't truly appreciate the dramatic search for it and I felt no differently once it was "revealed").


message 18: by Elaine (last edited Dec 13, 2018 06:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Elaine | 103 comments I've traveled extensively throughout South America and visited Columbia in 1992, so perhaps I was more sensitive to the issues Vasquez raises. Columbia is a very beautiful country and on the verge of what looked like successful development but was instead ruined by the drug trade and earlier by the exploitation of the United Fruit Co. as Garcia Marquez shows in his novella Leaf Storm, which is also set in the town of Macondo that features in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Amazingly the aviation disasters Vasquez draws on actually happened. We have also been witnessing perilous developments in Venezuela and now Brazil. The histories of South American countries have indeed been tragic. I found Vasquez captures the sense of being trapped in this vortex. For me, the novel became intensely powerful, almost unbearably so, with the tapes from the black box. I thought it quite brilliant, how Vasquez captures being unwittingly caught up in the cycle of destruction. It was certainly a profound lesson for the prof.


message 19: by Marc (new) - rated it 3 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2564 comments Mod
Sounds like he rather accurately captured things, Elaine. Wonderful to be able to hear from someone who has been there and seen many of the effects.


message 20: by Lia (last edited Dec 13, 2018 08:01AM) (new) - added it

Lia I think the sense of danger comes through to me via Yammara’s paranoia, his subjective jumpy reactions, I can sense how terrified and unsafe he felt.

I was anticipating something really bad to happen when uncle Mike showed up to that house in the middle of nowhere to see Elaine and little Maya — a naive foreigner and a helpless child. And then he got drunk, and pulled out a gun ... I was so sure something really bad was going to happen, I can’t decide if I was “let down” when nothing did happen, but yes, I did feel like violence might erupt anywhere, anytime (even though it mostly didn’t in the novel.)


message 21: by Elaine (last edited Dec 14, 2018 03:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Elaine | 103 comments That's a good observation, Lia. As I recall from my travels, sometimes things looked quite normal on the surface, but anything could have happened. One is usually reminded of this by a strong military presence. It wasn't unusual for long-distance buses to be stopped and everyone searched. I don't recall Vasquez mentioning this, except perhaps when Yammara had to stop for a toll on the highway. This could have been potentially tricky. And his disappearing, i.e., not going home or calling, would have triggered all kinds of dread. Certainly that would have been the case in Argentina or Chile, when many were "disappeared."


message 22: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol (carolfromnc) | 448 comments Thanks to all who participated! This discussion added a tremendous amount to my understanding of Sound of Things Falling, and I'll be continuing to think about topics raised here for some time to come.

Happy New Year - I wish you all a year full of book happiness.


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