"The Sound of Things Falling": Colombia's Upheaval Continues

Coincidentally, I finished reading this extraordinary book that takes place in Colombia's history spanning from the 1960's to the late 1990's, only to read the news about the deaths of protestors there this week. According to Axios news writer Marina E. Franco (Noticias Telemundo), "Colombia has one of the highest protest death tolls in the world since the beginning of the pandemic, with one death every 36 hours."

What's going on in Colombia now originally started as protests against a proposed tax hike that was later rescinded by President Duque. Protests escalated as the violence at the hands of the riot police continued unchecked. "The protesters want the riot police to be disbanded and for all members of the security forces to be held accountable by an independent body rather than by military courts," as reported in this deep dive by the BBC.com. Additionally, the protests have come to include the extreme hunger, poverty and inequality, writes Julie Turkewitz for the New York Times, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic on mostly "marginalized communities, including Afro-descendant, Indigenous, farmers, and young people," according to the Nation.com.

Colombia's modern history has been one of multi-generational struggle that is considerably recent. When you compare what is going on now with what Juan Gabriel Vásquez wrote as a fictional tale published in 2011 against these back drops, you have to wonder what the future for Colombia holds.


In “The Sound of Things Falling,” Vásquez writes a modern tale breaking away from traditional magical realist Latin American writers from the past. He grounds the story in realism using historical moments, supported by flawed, three dimensional characters, which serves to bolster the book’s theme of things sounding as they fall. Yet, although he cannot help but use related-to-magical realism ingredients, such as fate and destiny (elements themselves being ‘magical’), and leaning on a circular or intertwining of lives (again elements that also serve to create a sense of ‘magic’), the book is heavily grounded in realism.


There is a more historical fiction feel to this book as Vásquez uses real historical events such as the crashed American Airlines Flight 965 to ground his story, making some elements, like the Peace Corps’ involvement in the Colombian drug trade and America's war on drugs policies, feel plausible against the book’s backdrop. This successful linking of past and fiction blurs the lines in such a way to convey the actions of the characters as credible.

People falling out of planes, planes falling out of the sky, people falling when shot, or sounds of pain falling out of corporeal beings, whether animal or mammal. “The sound of my own downfall,” says the main protagonist Antonio (285), as he is reminded of the Little Prince. Even though he does not literally fall from the sky so “there was no possible testimony of my fall, there was no black box that anybody could consult, nor was there any black box of Ricardo Laverde’s fall.” This idea is the backbone of the story. The sound of his downfall keeps Antonio trapped in his PTSD and forever linked to another man’s family.

These elements remain important because although a book of fiction, we see the impact of Colombia's modern history happening right now. Just like the book, the question remains unanswered as to whether Antonio will pass his traumas down to his young daughter, as generations of Colombians have helplessly done so in the past, and will continue to do in the future as the protests, poverty, and economic demise of the country increases.


Right now, Colombians are being shot in the face by the riot police (ESMAD) whether they are directly involved with the ongoing protests or not. "Human rights groups estimate as many as 200 protesters have suffered eye injuries after being targeted by Colombia’s notorious anti-riot police," reads the subtitle of the recent Nation.com article written by Peter Schurmann and Manuel Ortiz. The police seemed determined to use all kinds of extreme violence, including reported sexual violence, to deter its citizenry.


What's next for Colombia? I'm certain Vásquez is wondering anxiously. Perhaps his next book will meld the back drop of what's happening now in his country with another tale of trauma, loss, and maybe what happens when you rise from falling. © Isabel Alvear, July 2021 For more information on this topic and more, please "click" on the highlighted links. Drop a comment below, like, and share. First image by Daniel Cifuentes from Pixabay; second image provided from Penguin Random House; third image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay.

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