The Drug Trade Destroys A Generation — Quietly — In 'Falling'

"The Sound of Things Falling" by Juan Gabriel Vásquez Reviewed by Marcela Valdes July 30, 2013.

If I tell you that Juan Gabriel Vasquez's exquisite novel The Sound of Things Falling is about the drug trade in Colombia, a few stock images might arise in your mind: an addict overdosing in a dirty apartment, say, or a dealer ordering the killing of some troublesome peon, or the drugs themselves bubbling in a volumetric flask. Here in America, shows like Breaking Bad and The Wire have taught us how to think about the drug trade, how to imagine it. But Vasquez was born in Colombia in 1973 — the same year that President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration — and he has a different story for us altogether.

In this novel, nobody overdoses in an apartment. Instead Vasquez gives us delicate renderings of a sonogram ("a sort of luminous universe, a confusing constellation in movement"), of insomnia ("the dew accumulating on the windows like a white shadow when the temperature dropped in the early hours"), of a famous, abandoned car ("the bodywork cracked open, another dead animal whose skin was full of worms"). He gives us the decomposition of a young man's family in the 1990s and the ripening of a young woman's first love in the 1970s. He gives us the birth of the war on drugs and the disillusionment of a generous Peace Corps volunteer. He gives us the sound of planes falling, of bodies falling, of lives falling inexorably apart. He gives us the most engrossing Latin American novel I've read since Roberto Bolaño's 2666.

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