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Everybody’s problem

Sunday, June 8, 2014

If you think that drugs, drug cartels and drug smuggling are everyone else’s problem but your own, then you really need to read our June Sunday Arts Section (SAS) Book Club choice, The Sound of Things Falling, a novel by Colombian-born author Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The Sound of Things Falling tells the surreal story of Bogotá after it became infamously crowned the drug capital of South America. This is a story that represents the decline of many cities—and even countries—once drugs, corruption and  drug-related political  assassinations become the order of the day. Vásquez sidesteps the economic and political issues behind the drug trade, choosing instead to concentrate on how ordinary people become sucked into a drug-related culture—if they don’t become victims of it. 


Vásquez shows how the drug trade has an impact on ordinary individuals through three characters: Antonio Yammara, a young professor of jurisprudence; Ricardo Laverde, an elderly man who is rumoured to have just been released from prison after a 20-year sentence for drug trafficking; and Elaine Fritts, Laverde’s American-born wife. Yammara quickly learns how an innocent bystander can be pulled unknowingly into a traumatic, life-threatening situation that is a result of some drug deal; Laverde discovers how it is possible for an an ambitious young man  to be lured into the drug trade  without thinking of the consequences; and his innocent wife, Fritts, realises, all too late,  that there is no way to turn your back on the drug trade when someone close to you is involved.  


In chilling detail, The Sound of Things Falling manages to show just how the drug trade affects everyone—even the most innocent and law-abiding citizen—once it infiltrates a country. Greed, misguided ambition and a yearning for success grab Laverde, who wants to find a way to support and impress his foreign-born wife. Yammara is the innocent bystander who knows what is going on in his country, but never dreams the problem can touch him, even though he is acquainted with a suspicious character. The most interesting and by far the saddest story belongs to Fritts, an idealistic young woman from the US who comes to Colombia to work as a Peace Corps volunteer. She is totally innocent of what is going on around her. Her innocence turns into denial and then passive acceptance. She simply chooses to turn her back on a nation’s problems because she can’t face what her husband is doing. The Sound of Things Falling  is an entertaining read with chilling revelations.


Discussion Questions

1. Is it possible for anyone to escape the repercussions of a drug culture? 
2. Who do you think is most vulnerable when the drug trade moves into a country? 
3. How difficult is it to return to a “normal” society once drug lords infiltrate a society? 
4. Is drug smuggling more of a political or economic issue? 
5. Do you see any similarities between T&T and Bogotá? 
6. How much do you feel that the drug trade in T&T affects you?


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