The noteable Colombian writer, Juan Gabriel Vasquez has written another brilliant book which goes to the heart of Columbia and her people. The story veers between the present and a mystery of the violent past that spills over to the present and affects the life of the narrator of the story, Antonio Yamarra. Antonio lives with his family in Bogota and is a law professor in the University. It was his habit to relax after classes by playing billiards in a nearby bar. There he meets and has a casual friendship with an older man, Ricardo Laverde. One day the meloncoly and somewhat mysterious Laverde confides in Antonio that he had been recently released from serving a 20 year sentence in the States for drug smuggling. He had been a talented and daring pilot. He requests that Antonio accompany him on a walk through the city. As they walk out together, Laverde was violently accosted and killed, and Antonio was injured. This incident sets off a chain of actions that leads the reader deep into the atmosphere of Colombia in the 1970s.
After the attack, Antonio suffered from PTSD and was unable to concentrate on anything but solving the mystery of why Laverde was slain in gangland style. Laverde had confided in Antonio that his wife had been killed in a plane accident when she was on her way to join him in Bogota after his release from jail, and he possessed a copy of the cockpit recording taken from the plane's black box.
The main part of the novel is about Ricardo and Elaine Laverde and how this man became involved in the drug trade, headed in those days by the dangerous drug cartel led by Pablo Escobar. Ricardo and Elaine had one child, a daughter who is anxious to know more about her father. Antonio is able to contact her and visits her ranch in the Magdalena Valley which at one time was the center of Escobar's drug empire. Antonio and the daughter, Maya, are able to piece together the story of her parents, whose love story becomes entangled with that of the Peace Corp that Elaine is a member of.
As they entangle the web of her parents' lives, Maya and Antonio are drawn closer together. Vasquez shows how fate places us in situations from the past even as we live in the present.
Part of the mystery of the novel concerns a sound from the cockpit of the downed plane that cannot be identified by Antonio, thus the title: "It's the sound of things falling from on high, an interrupted and somehow also eternal sound, a sound that didn't ever end, that kept ringing in my head from that very afternoon....."
Antonio strays from his life and his family as he becomes involved in the lives of the Liverdes and rediscovering the sadness and violence of Columbia's past history. Toward the end of the novel he says, "The saddest thing that can happen to a person is to find out their memories are lies."
I highly recommend this novel to all readers. The translator has done a beautiful job of conveying the depth of Vasquez's writing. What a wonderful writer Vasquez is.