The Man Who Loved Dogs

Alfredo Fernandez Rodriguez

"The Man Who Loved Dogs," by Leonardo Padura.
"The Man Who Loved Dogs," by Leonardo Padura.

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.

5 thoughts on “The Man Who Loved Dogs

  • I for one read the Communist Manifesto loudly every morning, outside the window at passersby, neighbors, officers of te law, …and I can vouch for the atmosphere it inspires, (especially among the neighbors).

  • Then again, the only thing better for your reputation than getting hacked to death is to be shot in the face. To be frozen in time at the peak of one’s promise, before the necessary negotiations with time and circumstance, ideal because it cannot be realized, a garden of Eden.

  • I’m reminded of the joke that was reportedly popular in Moscow during the asset-looting frenzy of the mid-late 1990s: “Everything Marx said about Communism was a lie, but everything he said about Capitalism is true.”

  • Please see my comments in today’s HT “Is it possible to travel to Cuba . . . ”

    Alfredo, you are mistaken on one important point. You say that 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.” This is a mistake, and a serious one.

    Marxists who still hold the Trotskyist world view constantly point a damning finger at “a Stalinist system,” as though it were the font of all defects in socialism-in-practice. The truth is that statism, massive bureaucracy and political absolutism are endemic in Marxist ideology and program.

    You can prove this to yourself if you will re-read the Communist Manifesto candidly, and ask yourself if its hypotheses for running a socialist society have in any way been proved correct by historical practice.

    It is not Stalinism that is statist, bureaucratic, autocratic and economically dysfunctional–it is Marxism.

  • Padura offers food for thought. What would have been the outcome for Socialism had the brilliant intellectual Trotsky won the power struggle with the plodding, paranoid Stalin? Then again, on the stage of history intellectuals usually become the mince-meats of murderous politicians. All great religions, be they Budhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and, err, even Socialism, seem to be responses to injustices and inhumanity. Christianity, for example, was a response to the cruelty and injustices of the Roman Empire. In time, though, the new religion becomes ossified, formal, and formulaic, rather than dynamic, !viola! a new religion appears, to take its place. Must we forever be reinventing the wheel?

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