If you haven’t been reading Juan Gabriel Vásquez—the most sought-after South American novelist who isn’t, you know, dead—now is the time to start. His new novel, The Sound of Things Falling, comes out today.
A native of Colombia, where the shadow of Gabriel García Márquez falls on every other writer, JGV uses GGM’s favorite aspects of South American history—the bloody coups and bizarre miracles—to very different ends. The narrator of The Informers navigates the urban labyrinths Bogotá and Medellín to uncover his father’s scandalous past as a Nazi collaborator. The Secret History of Costaguana alleges that Joseph Conrad stole the idea for Nostromo—every little detail—from the biography of a real-life Colombian man whose son is determined to get his father’s life back. In The Sound of Things Falling, a pilot who ran drugs for Pablo Escobar is murdered, and his death reveals how narco-trafficking has contaminated a whole generation.
In Vasquez’s novels, history is always more private and devastating than it seems. His narrators tend to ramble on, clutching their chests and shaking their heads, melodramatically absorbed in their own sense of destiny. But they know, correctly, that they are doomed by events beyond their control. Each book is like a soul-searching apotheosis of Law & Order, or what Paul Auster might write if had interned at the International Criminal Court. The Sound of Things Falling has already won the $175,000 Alfaguara prize in Spain, and no less an eminence than Jonathan Franzen has come indoors from his bird-watching to champion the book. So that familiar sound coming out of South America is the sound of things worth reading.
– Brian Hurley