Leonardo Padura brings a noir sensibility to the assassination of Leon Trotsky by Ramón Mercader in this multilayered epic that weaves together three different plot threads ― Trotsky in exile, Ramón in pursuit, Iván in frustrated stasis ― to bring emotional truth to historical fact.
...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.