In many films set in 1980s America, all the kitchens seem to house coffee percolators. These machines would later be replaced by espresso machines as sure as crimped hair and leg warmers were replaced by GHD-straightened hair and peplums. The coffee in these percolators would drip relatively innocuously into the jug or cup below: what began as murky water would slowly and carefully turn into a much anticipated river of caffeine that would delight its maker. Reading The Sound of Things Falling, I had the image of a percolator in my mind. The novel started with a slow drip of sentences and paragraphs until the much anticipated river of prose came into being.
Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s novel is set in Latin American pre and post Pablo Escobar’s years of turmoil and terror. The multi-generational story unfolds and is woven through the lives of a couple of protagonists whose meeting is as unusual as their connection. Like the murky water, I was not sure whether or not I was enjoying this tale. I was confused and unsure where it was going. But as a reader I was in the very competent hands of Vasquez and I allowed myself to lead quietly and carefully like a small child being lead into the warm summer waters of a favourite beach.
I am not overly familiar with the political history of Latin America although reading this tale has peaked my interest. Escobar’s drug cartels act as backdrop and it seems entirely inevitable that good and evil conflate due to the times. While there are many moments of melancholy in The Sound of Things Falling I would not call this a sad novel. In fact, there are many moments of muted triumph as protagonists adjust to their coarse and bumpy environment with acts of great love and selflessness.