...Padura attempts nothing less than an inquest into how revolutionary utopias devolve into totalitarian dystopias. At the same time, he has written an irresistible political crime thriller — all the more remarkable considering that we know the ending before we crack open this 576-page tome ... The Man who Loved Dogs, beautifully rendered into English by Anna Kushner, is an exhaustively reported work, chockablock with history ... Indeed, it is Padura’s careful reading of Orwell’s chronicle of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, that animates much of this tragic tale ... A carefully crafted web of relationships threaded through Padura’s characters drives this complex, sometimes over-written narrative ... In his detective novels, he cagily navigated a quasi-permissible space, but in The Man Who Loved Dogs (first published in Spain in 2009), he finally lets it rip. Although Fidel Castro is never mentioned by name, his creation — the Cuban revolution — is rendered here as a crumbling tropical gulag ... as Cuba’s greatest living writer and one who is inching toward the pantheon occupied by Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, Padura may well now be untouchable.
Mr. Padura’s novel tells this triple story without ever abandoning the general conventions of fiction. More concerned with the emotional life of its characters than with their historical roles, the novel still imparts a sense of reality, thanks to its deft handling of an astonishing quantity of information about Trotsky and Mercader’s lives. This doesn’t impair the book but it does make it a serious reading project: There is an almost courtroom rhythm to Mr. Padura’s storytelling, as if an urgent need to offer evidence had overwhelmed his ability simply to present the macabre dance between the victim and his assassin ... The three alternating stories resonate with one another, acquiring deeper meaning as they paint the complete fresco of a political paradigm’s downfall ... Ms. Kushner’s rendering of the novel in English brilliantly demonstrates her loyalty to the author’s voice. She nudges the English to give it a Cuban tone, respectful of the brutal efficiency of Mr. Padura’s Spanish, while never sacrificing the lyrical flourishes with which he occasionally bedazzles his readers.
Mr. Padura's most strenuous imaginative work involves filling in Mercader's background ... Spy-novel clichés and hard-boiled dialogue ('he's in Washington, singing like a canary') keep the pages of The Man Who Loved Dogs turning. Despite Mr. Padura's tendency to let a few of his characters make overlong speeches about the meaning of identity and the failure of the socialist utopia, the tension builds toward a dramatic climax that helps to make his novel a rewarding read, despite its excesses.
Padura’s book is a massive undertaking, a fictional survey of the terrible history of the struggle between two equally ruthless revolutionaries, Trotsky and Stalin, of the mass murders and show-trials, and of the trusting millions caught up in it ... This book is in fact the story of three men who loved dogs: the young narrator, the cold-blooded assassin with his pedigree canines and Trotsky himself. It is this insight into their characters, this glimpse of tenderness within, which redeems the leading personages from being mere historical ciphers, and Padura bestows the novelist’s gift of turning them into living human beings for whom one can feel pity and fear. When this novel was published in Spanish five years ago, it received literary acclaim across Europe and rightly so, for it is a monumental work.
In a meticulous recreation of the events leading up to that shocking assassination, the book provides a searing denunciation of the Stalinist perversion of socialism’s democratic promise ... The novel explores the way Stalinism first corrupted socialism in the Soviet Union, then extended its toxic imprint beyond its own borders, finally leaving a long legacy that far outlived Stalin himself. Padura is not interested in the standoff between the capitalist and socialist worlds; he untangles the repressive elements within socialism itself ... Some of the novel’s most chilling sequences take place in Moscow, which Ramón visits during a break in training ... In The Man Who Loved Dogs, Padura captures something of the evolution of the island’s literary scene from the 1960s to the present.
...a stunning novel ... Spanning wide tracts of the globe, sweeping through some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century and interweaving the lives of three wildly different characters, this monumental, intricately structured work recounts the events that lay behind the assassination of Lev Davidovich Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940 ... It is a measure of Padura’s humanity and skill as a novelist that the reader can at times empathise with all three characters despite their cruel actions and manifest flaws. In Padura’s telling, to know is to love, or at least to understand. Judgment is suspended as they grapple with their consciences and become reconciled to their fates ... One of the novel’s most striking features is the harsh depiction of Castro’s Cuba, as a final, dismal coda to the revolutionary hopes of 1917 ... There can be few more insightful explorations of the ways in which communism corroded the human spirit and justified the most monstrous of crimes.
The Man Who Loved Dogs is a page-turner. Part cloak-and-dagger, part Soviet history, part meditation on truth and fear, it chronicles both the historical record and the physical and psychological injuries wrought by the Stalinism of old and its more contemporary Cuban variant ... Cuba comes off as a dark and decrepit country, but Padura is no knee-jerk anti-Communist. He grapples honestly with the profound despair of his generation, many of whom willingly sacrificed their creativity, their labour, some their very lives, to what now seems a grand delusion ... Translator Anna Kushner captures Padura’s fluid prose, but read the original if you can. It’s even better.
Padura’s most explicitly political work to date, the novel recounts the assassination of Leon Trotsky, exposing the high crimes of Stalinism and the dismal, repressed lives of Padura’s own Cuban generation ... The Man Who Loved Dogs is a more ambitious effort, but it’s still a yarn, weaving together three distinct narratives, each told in a different style ... A novel with this much going on risks inconsistency, and Padura’s Trotsky sections are a slog. The result of deep research, these parts are overstuffed with names and events, gummed up by impenetrable historical context, and too cautious in their portrait of the man himself ... The novel’s two other narrative threads have far more brio. Mercader’s story, which gives us a portrait of Trotsky’s assassin as a young man and is also based firmly in history, practically explodes off the page ... Mercader’s story is vigorous historical fiction, but the book’s soul lies firmly in the Cuban sections, primarily set in Havana during the Gray Years of 1970s ... Padura hits his Chandler-esque register of pulp poetry. He’s plainly at home in Iván’s voice. The writing is noirish without falling into parody and elusive enough to maintain a lasting sense of mystery.
An accomplished braiding of history and fiction, the novel follows three attenuated strands ... Padura’s novel encompasses nothing less than a history of international communism after the 1917 Revolution. The story goes from the scorched earth of Spain in the 1930s, to the political hotbed that was Mexico in the 1940s, to Moscow during the Prague Summer of 1968, to Havana from the ’70s to the near present, where we learn of Ivan’s ultimate ironic fate, leaving the reader with the exhilarating feeling of having just experienced three entire lives.
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 ... Long but without excess; philosophically charged but swiftly moving. A superb intellectual mystery.