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Editorial Reviews


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)

About the Author

Leonardo Padura was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1955. A novelist, journalist, and critic, he is the author of several novels, two volumes of short stories, and several nonfiction collections. His novels featuring the detective Mario Conde have been translated into many languages and have won literary prizes around the world. The Man Who Loved Dogs was a finalist for the Book of the Year Award in Spain. Padura lives in Havana.

Anna Kushner was born in Philadelphia and first traveled to Cuba in 1999. She has translated the novels of Guillermo Rosales, Norberto Fuentes, and Gonçalo M. Tavares.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Tra edition (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374201749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374201746
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #269,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Leonardo Padura was born in Havana in 1955 and lives there today. A novelist, journalist, and critic, he is the author of several novels, one collection of essays, and a volume of short stories. Leonardo Padura is the most internationally successful Cuban novelist of the revolutionary era and responsible for renovating the Cuban detective narrative in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union.His Havana series crime novels featuring the detective Mario Conde, published in English by Bitter Lemon Press, have been translated into many languages and have won literary prizes around the world. In January 2014 his historical novel about Trotsky's assassin, The Man Who Loved Dogs, will be published in English.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dmitry Portnoy VINE VOICE on January 30, 2014
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Hindsight makes the past appear predictable. What could be more inevitable than what has already occurred? That is the big lie of history, filled with unlikely persons and developments, but embarrassed to admit it.

Literature doesn't have this problem. It restores the sense of surprise to events that were unbelievable when they happened. It can make history seem like fantasy or science fiction, which is how it feels as it unfolds. It exposes a truth whitewashed from chronicles chiseled in stone.

Old-fashionedly, yet freshly, "The Man Who Loved Dogs," whole-heartedly and un-self-preoccupiedly embraces its power as fiction. It revs up a turbo-charged narrative drive; culls the perfect details from the bin of minutiae to hang the story on and hook you in; weaves long, flexible, yet tightly focused sentences to funnel the complex feelings of its characters. And guiding it all a profound sense of shock the author's mastery impels upon the reader.

How could a math student build an army to overthrow a tzar, create an all-powerful government, yet be so blind to politics? How could an utterly improbable revolution happen again and again in different places? How could a swimmer just struggling not to drown turn the tides of history?

Read this book as the impossible epic fantasy-adventure it is, and marvel at the magic on every page.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Reskof on February 21, 2014
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This is a wonderful story about the assignation of Leon Trotsky who was the rival and sworn enemy of Joseph Stalin. Apparently the author, Leonardo Padura, was born, raised and educated in Cuba during Fidel Castro's long lasting regime when orthodox Communist dogma was the only political idea available in Cuba. Madura seems during his life to have become slowly aware of the truth of the matter and utilizing the thinly veiled medium of the detective genre tells the story of his own enlightenment and of the life of the man who actually did kill Trotsky at the behest of Stalin personally. The story is a bit redundant and could have used some careful editing with regard to length and repetition. But, all in all it is very good and gripping in parts. David Reskof
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Welch on March 22, 2014
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The breadth and scope of what the author undertook is remarkable. The tapestry is majestic, from Spain to the Soviet Union to Mexico and Cuba, all with an enthralling tale of murderous intrigue. If you like history, you will have it in spades with a special overlay into the minds of the 20th century figures. If you favor fiction, you will find an engaging tale, delving deep into the minds of a cross section of world activists. I don't know how Senor Padura did it but he has created a novel worthy of literary acclaim. Historical figures literally leap off the page and the reader cannot help but be captivated by a unique overview of history's turning points. Bravo! A tremendous work.
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Marc Lichtman on March 10, 2014
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I mostly read non-fiction these days, and I got interested in reading Leonardo Padura because as a partisan of the Cuban Revolution, I'm interested in what Cubans are writing and reading, and he seems to be the most popular writer in Cuba. I love his Mario Conde novels; I view them less as detective stories than as social criticism, but the mystery form works well for him. I still have one to go. The fact that he is introducing Trotsky to Cuban readers is significant, but the real question is the form in which he's introduced. Someone I know who was at the recent Havana Book Fair said that Cuban Communists he knows who admire Trotsky are not thrilled with the book, although that may not be a representative sampling.

I like the form of this novel: The alternating stories of Trotsky; his assassin Ramón Mercader; and Padura's alter ego, the semi-fictional writer Iván Cárdenas, who meets Mercader in Cuba. The fact that the three stories aren't quite in sync with each other also makes it more interesting. It's starts out as quite an exciting novel, but soon moves into a slow, long narrative. What I like best about the Mario Conde novels is that while there isn't really a lot of action, the writing style makes me feel like I'm on a proverbial roller coaster ride. It's impossible for me to read them slowly. A lot more happens in this novel, but I found myself feeling bogged down in somewhat dull writing.

The New York Times review talks about "its Tolstoyan passion for historical trifles and Dostoyevskyan pleasure in examining the moral life of its characters." I have no pretensions to being a literary critic.

Padura did a lot of research for this novel, in a number of different countries.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on November 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Cuban author Padura made himself a name as a crime fiction writer. Crime is also in the center of this bulky novel: the assassination of Leo Trotsky in his Mexican exile in 1940, called project 'Duck' by the Russian Secret service.
The book title is an homage to Raymond Chandler, who wrote a short story called 'The man who loved dogs'. The book is more history novel than crime fiction, though.

Three life stories are told: that of Trotsky, from his deportation in 1929 to his death, with reflections on the earlier years of revolution. The life of the assassin, a Spanish recruit to Stalin's hit squad, with insight on Europe in the 1930s. And that of a Cuban writer, who meets the 'retired' assassin and learns the big story. He provides insights in Cuban circumstances.
This is historically interesting, but too compact for people without some background knowledge on the Soviet Union and the Spanish civil war.
Is it more than a look at interesting times? Does it transcend the fictionalization of facts and tell us more than we can gather from a good Wikipedia entry?
Alas, no. The author uses a lot of material, but doesn't really make it live.
I tend to agree with the view of a reviewer in this is literature for bibliophile bureaucrats.

Trotsky's personal worries don't really concern me much. Would the world have been a better place with the SU under him rather than under Stalin? Well, maybe he would have been smarter about Hitler, which might have made World War 2 a smaller event. Maybe. Would he have done with less domestic murder? Maybe. Would he have been more aggressive about 'exporting revolution?' Also maybe. The balance is hard to evaluate.
The killer's life is more interesting, as is the writer's.
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