Alfredo Fernandez Rodriguez
I just finished Leonardo Padura’s latest novel, “The Man Who Loved Dogs.” The work, says the Cuban writer in the book’s epilogue, investigates the “perversion of the great utopia of the 20th century”: socialism. He asserts that this utopia was wrecked by the same people who “invested their hopes” in it.
The author analyzes the personalities of the co-leader of the Great Russian Revolution of 1917, Trotsky; and his murderer, Ramon Mercader. Padura uses them as a springboard to dive into the inner world of a system that continues to exist in 21st century Cuba.
The novel stretches from the arrival to power of the dreaded first secretary of the Soviet Party, Stalin, to the existence in Cuba of Ivan, a fictional character who meets Ramon Mercader in 1977 when he arrives in Havana with cancer to live out his final days.
Needing to atone for his guilt, Mercader recounts his misdeeds to Ivan, who meets him on a beach while walking his dogs. Ivan, relegated to functioning as an editor of a veterinary magazine, is a frustrated writer – a victim of the intolerance of a system that first put an end to his literature and will later end his precarious life. Ivan commits suicide in 2004 after writing his novel “The Man Who Loved Dogs.”
Based on these three characters, Padura analyzes the inner world of events such as the October Revolution, in which Trotsky was at the front of the Red Army; the Spanish Civil War, where Mercader participated as an anti-fascist Republican; and Cuba in the 1970s, where the persecution of ideas forced Ivan to give up his career as a writer.
According to Padura, it’s curious how socialism blames all of its economic and political failures on capitalism and never on its own internal structure: one that is characterized by the refusal to allow criticism and that is always threatened by an enemy that is generally more abstract than concrete.
With his novel, Padura has put his finger on the sore point of a Stalinist system that attempted to be the solution to people’s problems and ended up being one of the dead-ends of modernity.
The novel provides a perspective that helps to understand today’s Cuba.