The Man Who Loved Dogs

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(389)

Leonardo Padura's exciting new novel The Man Who Loved Dogs shows a Moscow deteriorating under the rule of Joseph Stalin, a Mexico enlivened by the artist Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky's tragic assassination and a post revolutionary Cuba, all in one breathtaking narrative that truly does the events of the period justice.

The novel is set in the late 1970s and follows the journey of a dispirited Cuban writer named Ivan Cardenas Maturell, who on a Havana beach one day happens across a mysterious foreign stranger, Ramon Mercader, who is always accompanied by two stunning wolfhounds.

Little does Ivan know that this stranger is burdened with a secret that is to change his life. Streaming between Ivan's hustling life in Cuba, Mercader's eventful early years in France and Spain, and Trotsky's long strenuous years of exile, this riveting work is more than just a historical detective story, but also a rich tale about the complexities of the human condition and the world we live in.

One of the most invigorating elements that keep the pages of this story turning is the way in which Padura carefully interweaves a number of distinguishing narrative threads with one another.

We intimately delve into the minds of our different characters, in a way which makes us both empathise with and criticise their actions, without labeling them as good or bad characters, but allows us to think about the wider impact of Stalin's hideous legacy.

The novel style of the narrative feeds into this, and makes what some might consider a weighty subject easier to swallow and relate to. Padura's choice to depict the events of the time in a fictional way not only makes for a more engaging read, but also illustrates an ever deepening and articulate picture of politics and intrigue that captures scrupulously the consequences for ordinary people of lost illusions, vanishing utopias and the indictment of Stalinism.

Woven into Padura's narrative is his clever use of metaphors, in particular the two wolfhounds reflect an old Russia, graceful and superfluous yet somehow instinctively alluring even to hard-line revolutionaries.

This book is in fact the story of three men who loved dogs: the inquisitive young narrator, the dejected and complex assassin, and Trotsky himself. It is this profoundly thought out insight into their psyche, this foretaste of tenderness within, which reclaims these leading personalities from being nothing more than historical figures.

Padura uses the gift of any great novelist by conveying them as living human beings for whom we can feel pity and fear. The book succeeds in being a superb intellectual mystery, and overall literary masterpiece worthy of being as acclaimed here as it was across Europe when it was first published. Now translated in English for the first time it is a must-read and a monumental piece of work.

The Man Who Loved Dogs, by Leonardo Padura. Published by Bitter Lemon Press.