Leonardo Padura; Translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to one of the most fascinating and complex political narratives of the past hundred years: the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader.
The story revolves around Iván Cárdenas Maturell, who in his youth was the great hope of modern Cuban literature—until he dared to write a story that was deemed counterrevolutionary. When we meet him years later in Havana, Iván is a loser: a humbled and defeated man with a quiet, unremarkable life who earns his modest living as a proofreader at a veterinary magazine. One afternoon, he meets a mysterious foreigner in the company of two Russian wolfhounds. This is “the man who loved dogs,” and as the pair grow closer, Iván begins to understand that his new friend is hiding a terrible secret.
Moving seamlessly between Iván’s life in Cuba, Ramón’s early years in Spain and France, and Trotsky’s long years of exile, The Man Who Loved Dogs is Padura’s most ambitious and brilliantly executed novel yet. This is a story about political ideals tested and characters broken, a multilayered epic that effortlessly weaves together three different plot threads— Trotsky in exile, Ramón in pursuit, Iván in frustrated stasis—to bring emotional truth to historical fact.
A novel whose reach is matched only by its astonishing successes on the page, The Man Who Loved Dogs lays bare the human cost of abstract ideals and the insidious, corrosive effects of life under a repressive political regime.
Praise for The Man Who Loved Dogs:
“Padura has written a historical novel of Tolstoyan sweep. The bonus thrill stems from knowing that this horrific tale—and most of its characters—are all too true . . . in The Man Who Loved Dogs, Padura attempts nothing less than an inquest into how revolutionary utopias devolve into totalitarian dystopias. At the same time, he has written an irresistible political crime thriller—all the more remarkable considering that we know the ending before we crack open this 576-page tome. The Man who Loved Dogs, beautifully rendered into English by Anna Kushner, is an exhaustively reported work, chockablock with history—from the Russian Revolution, the rise of fascism and Stalin’s show trials to the steely suffocation of post-Castro Cuba . . . A carefully crafted web of relationships threaded through Padura’s characters drives this complex . . . narrative . . . Like fellow novelist Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Padura writes along the razor’s edge. In his detective novels, he cagily navigated a quasi-permissible space, but in The Man Who Loved Dogs (first published in Spain in 2009), he finally lets it rip. Although Fidel Castro is never mentioned by name, his creation—the Cuban revolution—is rendered here as a crumbling tropical gulag. It is a calculated risk by Padura, a keen student of Cuban chess, and one based on the fact that there is a wider opening today than ever before on the island since the revolution. Moreover, as Cuba’s greatest living writer and one who is inching toward the pantheon occupied by Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, Padura may well now be untouchable.” —Ann Louise Bardach, The Washington Post
“The word ‘ambitious’ is often reviewerspeak for ‘long,’ and the novel is indeed that, at more than 550 pages. The word also can also imply the failure of a book to live up to its own expectations, but here that is not the case. Padura, who first conceived of the story while the Berlin Wall still stood, somehow manages to impose a riveting narrative form on what would otherwise be a textbook-level treatise on the rise and schism of international communism and how it has reverberated through the years to inform the lives of those still under its rule . . . Padura puts a human face on what might have otherwise been a stale chess match of ideology . . . wonderful translation by Anna Kushner supports the grand structure of the book, while maintaining Padura’s complex and muscular prose. He writes the sort of sentences that require confidence in the political import of literature, which we so rarely see these days in American authors . . . For an author who lives and writes in the intensely censorious Cuba, the publishing of this book represents not only an impressive artistic achievement but also an act of bravery.” —Nicholas Mancusi, The Miami Herald“If Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera turned the romance novel into literature, and Mario Vargas Llosa, with Conversation in the Cathedral, applied French 1950s nouveau roman techniques to the political thriller, the Cuban writer Leonardo Padura, known for detective thrillers, has made his entrance to the Latin American Modernist canon by writing a Russian novel . . . Its Russian quality comes not only from its length—almost 600 pages—and the fact that it returns constantly to Moscow, but also from its Tolstoyan passion for historical trifles and Dostoyevskyan pleasure in examining the moral life of its characters . . . Mr. Padura’s novel tells [a] triple story without ever abandoning the general conventions of fiction. More concerned with the emotional life of its characters than with their historical roles, the novel still imparts a sense of reality, thanks to its deft handling of an astonishing quantity of information about Trotsky and Mercader’s lives . . . The three alternating stories resonate with one another, acquiring deeper meaning as they paint the complete fresco of a political paradigm’s downfall. Mr. Padura suggests that his three main characters, though playing very different roles, end up victims of the machinations of a system that discards them when they stop being useful . . . Ms. Kushner’s rendering of the novel in English brilliantly demonstrates her loyalty to the author’s voice. She nudges the English to give it a Cuban tone, respectful of the brutal efficiency of Mr. Padura’s Spanish, while never sacrificing the lyrical flourishes with which he occasionally bedazzles his readers.” —Alvaro Enrigue, The New York Times“Spy-novel clichés and hard-boiled dialogue . . . keep the pages of The Man Who Loved Dogs turning . . . tension builds toward a dramatic climax that helps to make his novel a rewarding read.” —Bertrand M. Patenaude, The Wall Street Journal“In this ambitious, at times gripping work of historical fiction, Padura re-creates the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico. The novelist draws a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the outcast Bolshevik, hounded by Joseph Stalin. Padura’s Trotsky is arrogant and intransigent but also extraordinarily resilient and industrious in exile, self-critical and prescient, and emotionally devoted to his loving wife and children . . . Padura laments the . . . snuffing out of credulous dreams of Cuban revolutionaries but notes that the Soviet Union collapsed when the terror and lies began to subside. It is not clear whether the novelist foresees the same fate for Cuba.” —Foreign Affairs“Padura is one of Cuba’s leading writers, and this massive novel must be his masterpiece; it’s a brilliant, multi-layered examination of 20th-century history . . . With equal assurance and brio, Padura travels between Stalin’s Moscow, the Mexico of Frida Kahlo, and Spain and France in the turbulent years between the wars, to engineer an epic of lost illusions. Magnificent.” —Kate Saunders, The Times (London)“The Man Who Loved Dogs, by Cuban author Leonardo Padura, is a stunning novel, chronicling the evisceration of the Communist dream and one of the most "ruthless, calculated and useless" crimes in history. Spanning wide tracts of the globe, sweeping through some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century and interweaving the lives of three wildly different characters, this monumental, intricately structured work recounts the events that lay behind the assassination of Lev Davidovich Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940 . . . It is a measure of Padura’s humanity and skill as a novelist that the reader can at times empathise with all three [central] characters despite their cruel actions and manifest flaws.” —John Thornhill, The Financial Times
“Cuban writer Padura delivers a complex, every deepening tale of politics and intrigue worthy of Alan Furst or Roberto Bolaño . . . Long but without excess; philosophically charged but swiftly moving. A superb intellectual mystery.” —Kirkus (starred)“For some time, Cuban writer Leonardo Padura has been exploring his disenchantment with many of the realities of his beloved county through his novels about detective Mario Conde. But it is in his The Man Who Loved Dogs, just published in English, where his social and political reflections about socialism and freedom—in Cuba and beyond—reach their greatest depth . . . Contrary to the stereotype of robot-like Communists, Padura presents a nuanced view of a range of Communist personalities . . . Padura, living under Cuba’s sort of Communism . . . highlights Trotsky as a literary critic who affirms, without hesitation, that ‘everything is permitted in art.’ . . . Leonardo Padura is one of the principal representatives of a new intellectual and cultural ambience in the island that support the liberalization and democratization of Cuban society. But he is in a unique position in the Cuban system: though tolerated and even feted, his most critical work has not been made available to the broad public . . . The Cuban government wants to have its cake and eat it too: to relax some political controls and at the same time prevent the spread of ideas that may subvert its monopoly of power. Padura hasn’t been censored or repressed by the Cuban government. But similar to his narrator Iván, he has been made to matter much less than he should.” —Samuel Farber, Jacobin Magazine
“The man who loved dogs, in Cuban author Padura’s (Havana Gold) epic novel, is Jaime Lopez, an elderly Spaniard living in ’70s Havana who claims to have been a friend of the man who assassinated Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. An accomplished braiding of history and fiction, the novel follows three attenuated strands. The first is the story of Iván Cárdenas Maturell, a politically incorrect Cuban writer who befriends the dog-loving Lopez. The second is an account of Trotsky’s life in exile, from Turkey and France to Norway, and, finally, Mexico, where he’s welcomed by his good friends, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. And the third traces the radicalization of Ramón Mercader, who joins the Communist Party in Spain in the ’30s and is trained as a Soviet assassin. The novel dramatizes the long, slow collision course of Trotsky and Mercader. It also details Ivan’s relationship with Lopez and the ultimate revelation about his identity. Padura’s novel encompasses nothing less than a history of international communism after the 1917 Revolution. The story goes from the scorched earth of Spain in the 1930s, to the political hotbed that was Mexico in the 1940s, to Moscow during the Prague Summer of 1968, to Havana from the ’70s to the near present, where we learn of Ivan’s ultimate ironic fate, leaving the reader with the exhilarating feeling of having just experienced three entire lives.” —Publishers Weekly
“The Man Who Loved Dogs is an excellent novel, rich in suggestions about the human condition and about our world that go beyond straight narrative history.” —Ricardo Senabre, El Mundo
“A novel of great force, and Padura’s best . . . [It] has great human density and an intense narrative dynamic.” —J. A. Masoliver Rodenas, La Vanguardia