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Heretics: A Novel Hardcover – March 14, 2017
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"Gorgeous, sweeping . . . Heretics is part history, part detective story, but its overarching theme is the tension between the limitless yearnings of the human spirit and the limitations of geography and politics . . . Padura seems to have set his sights on transcending his island nation’s political system, rather than defying it." ―Charles Lane, The Washington Post
“Like Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer . . . Padura’s Heretics spans and defies literary categories. All of which would only be of ho-hum technical interest if Heretics weren’t also an arresting novel about fanaticism, anti-Semitism and the long fall-out of a decades-old moment of political cowardice . . . Padura’s ingenious novel is something of a heretic itself: by turns playful, dark, and moving, it traces the great psychic costs―and rewards―that come from nestling so deeply into dogma that nothing is permitted to trigger doubt.”
―Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air
“A grungy, beautiful gutter epic . . . Rum-soaked and bloody. Dangerous and funny. Chandler in the tropics, if Chandler had a sense of humor and a PhD in art history and Diaspora studies.”
―Jason Sheehan, NPR Books
"The pages of Cuban author Leonardo Padura's ample feast of a historical novel (translated from the Spanish, con gusto, by Anna Kushner) are populated by 'Heretics' of many sorts―religious, artistic, political and social . . . Mr. Padura displays a painter's eye worthy of his expansive canvas, which includes Dutch burghers in 1647, Jewish refugees escaping Hitler, Cuban baseball fans in the 1950s and disaffected Havana youth of the mid-2000s. This rich prose-panorama proves to be as much a spiritual meditation and a paean to individual freedom as it is a murder mystery and a treasure hunt." ―Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal
“The Cuban Leonardo Padura’s reputation is ironclad, and if you need reminding why, pick up Heretics . . . It’s as much an astringent picture of Padura’s own society as a crime fiction outing.”
―Barry Forshaw, The Guardian, The Best Recent Thrillers
“A multigenerational epic of baseball, religion, and a mysterious Rembrandt painting . . . Padura’s novel does not just place dogma and religious law against human desire . . . Heretics asks us what we remember, and why; do we know anything about our grandparents’ traumas, and, if so, why is that generational memory easier to lose in time than a painting?"
―Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic
“[A] fantastic novel . . . Now in a stunning translation by the preeminent translator of Cuban literature Anna Kushner, Hereticsdepicts Havana’s unorthodox progression into the present with an equally orthodox telling of it . . . As Cuba slowly acclimates to the world and Havana welcomes greater numbers of visitors each year,Heretics may serve as its best novelized introduction.”
―Michael Barron, The Culture Trip
“Remarkable . . . [Padura] moves with agility and ease from the formal discussion of heresy and the history of persecution to the drink-enabled chatter of contemporary friends. There’s a through-line of speculative investigation―whether as to the existence of God, the coming of a false Messiah, the provenance of the Rembrandt or the identity of the art thief and his murderer.”
―Nicholas Delbanco, Moment magazine
"Padura deftly handles complex issues of Jewish identity in Cuba, as well as Cuban identity on the island before and after Batista and in Miami; ultimately, he encompasses the whole richness of modern Cuban and Jewish history. This is a major novel and a testament to Padura’s stature as a writer." ―Mark Levine, Booklist (starred review)
"The intensive, richly detailed narrative is at once a portrait of Cuban upbringing, a meditation on anti-Semitism, and an intriguing account of the painting. . . Highly recommended." ―Library Journal (starred review)
"A beautifully teeming novel of revelation and family history, alive with the cadences of Cuba and the sorrows and hopes of the WWII Jewish diaspora. This book is also a lavish detective story, unraveling across continents and cultures and decades as it probes the meaning of a single, beguiling masterpiece―a small Rembrandt portrait of Christ that refuses to be silenced in the folds of art history."
―Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
"The perfect blend of historical, social, and espionage fiction. An adventure that without a respite. The best novel of the eight that Padura has written with Conde as protagonist . . . Enjoy it." ―Juan Carlos Galindo, El País
"Cuban mysterian Padura returns with another installment in his Mario Conde detective series, this one following a Rembrandt portrait over centuries and continents . . . Padura capably works here in Perez-Reverte territory, where art and ideas meet mayhem. Smart and satisfying." ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Leonardo Padura was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1955. A novelist, journalist, and critic, he is the author of several novels, including The Man Who Loved Dogs (FSG, 2014); 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. He lives in Cuba.
Anna Kushner was born in Philadelphia and first traveled to Cuba in 1999. She has translated the novels of Guillermo Rosales, Norberto Fuentes, Gonçalo M. Tavares, and Leonardo Padura.
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"Heretics" is a sort of mish-mash of Jewish, Cuban, Dutch, and Polish history. Characters arrive in Cuba in the 1930's; some are able to stay and others forced to leave when the ship, "St Louis", is turned away from Cuban refuge in Spring, 1939. Young Daniel Kaminsky, sent ahead of his parents and sister from Germany, was able to stay with his uncle, a master leather worker. His family, sent back to Europe, died in the Holocaust. But what of the small Rembrandt painting Daniel's father had been carrying with them and was being used to bargain their way off the St Louis, and into a safe haven? The bargaining didn't work but the picture stayed behind in Havana as the ship sailed off. Later it was found for sale in a London auction house. Daniel Kaminsky grew up in Havana and forsook his religious beliefs, converting, and marrying a Catholic woman. Later they moved to Miami, where they had a son, Elias. Elias became a painter and as he grew older, he wondered about his parents' past in Havana and, curiously, about the lost Rembrandt. He contacted an retired policeman to help him when he visits the island in 2007. The man, Mario Conde, has his own story.
I don't want to write much more about the plot or the characters. The book bounces back and forth between Cuba and Holland, between the 1600's of Rembrandt and the 20th century, between murders that may or may not be murders. There aren't many novels who combine the false Messiah Sabbatai Zevi and an "emo" in Havana in 2007. As with many good novels, the reader learns as well as enjoys the book. There seemed to be a balanced look at Castro's Cuba, particularly in the recent past. Since part of the book was set in 2007, Padura writes about the living conditions and the economy but always in the course of pushing the plot forward.
"Heretics" - and the word describes several characters in the vast book - is a wonderful read. However, It may be too much for anybody not interested in the topics Padura takes in hand. I'd advise anyone considering buying the book to read all the other reviews that will follow mine.