HAVANA TIMES — A 58-year-old author from the poverty-stricken Havana neighborhood of Mantilla has just won Cuba’s National Literary Award. Leonardo Padura was awarded that distinction in a context of social and institutional transformations that are changing the face of the island. For many of his compatriots, these changes and the award constitute good news.
His novels and characters are infused with “Cubania,” his testimonies are of the everyday landscape, while his criticisms are about the still existing Stalinist legacy on the Caribbean island. With these, Padura has won — in a rare alignment of the stars — the popularity of the Cuban public along with respect from Havana censors and market driven publishers in world markets.
The saga of his protagonist Mario Conde, the agony of exile (like that presented by Jose Maria Heredia and his contemporary epigones), and his invocations of historic fatigue that have set the pace (or the weight) of Cuban life, for some time, are part of the best legacy of Cuban contemporary literature.
He is someone who resists being pigeonholed as a Cold War writer as he lavishes his best fruits in disparate locations of transnational geography.
Now that the awards — to paraphrase singer Silvio Rodriguez — are coming home, powerfully and invisibly, there is no lack of voices warning of an apparent and/or foreseeable instructing of the author by the Cuban government’s propaganda apparatus.
However, when I shudder at the thought of this possibility, I mentally review the attributes of Leonardo’s creative bibliography. Different from other “personalities of national culture,” he has not been a courtier, a censor or someone who informs on his colleagues.
He has renounced the “professions of faith” and signing manifestos from those at both extremes. And always — at least he’s been this way during our brief friendship — he has shown respect for different opinions and he has demonstrated a certain frankness and simplicity, something unusual in the “bonfire of the vanities” in the literary world).
Because of all this, I can only wish him all the triumphs of the world. I hope these will be awarded to him while he exorcises the envy of others, as well as the seduction from the powerful and the temptation of feeling, for himself and for others, insuperable.
And, if it’s not too much to ask, to wait along with a Sunday coffee for another email pregnant with another controversy, with doubts, with hugs to share together.