Cuban writer Padura delivers a complex, ever deepening tale of politics and intrigue worthy of an Alan Furst or Roberto Bolaño.
Best known as a writer of literate procedurals, Padura turns to a deeper mystery, and one that is fraught with danger in most of the communist world—namely, the 1940 assassination in Mexico City of the dissident Bolshevik Leon Trotsky. To tell the story, Padura inserts roman à clef elements: A writer much like him, Iván Cárdenas Maturell, has run afoul of the regime for supposedly counterrevolutionary thought, and now, he has been hustled off in a quiet corner to edit a veterinary publication. Ironically, he remains the true believer of his past, ascetic and convinced that the socialist path leads to heaven: “[T]here is nothing closer to communist morality,” he remarks, “than Catholic precepts.” Now unmoored, he meets an old man who owns a brace of hounds and who, it turns out, was the assassin who did Trotsky in. As Iván and the dying Ramón Mercader, who has lived a life “so full of tremendous convulsions,” develop something that approaches a friendship, they chart the differences between the revolutionary generations of the 1930s and the 1960s, the point of view shifting back and forth to examine what might have worked and what certainly failed in the Soviet experiment. Trotsky, hounded by his longtime rival Josef Stalin, figures prominently in the narrative, querulous but rightfully aggrieved as he endures a life on the run; he can scarcely believe that “once the socialist dream was achieved, it would be necessary to call upon the proletariat to rebel against their own state.” Yet, until his appointed destiny with Mercader, that is just what he busies himself doing, causing a schism that persists—and one in which Padura’s aims will no doubt be argued over.
Long but without excess; philosophically charged but swiftly moving. A superb intellectual mystery.