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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Man Who Loved Dogs

Leonardo Padura

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To purchase The Man Who Loved Dogs

Title: The Man Who Loved Dogs
Author: Leonardo Padura
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 576 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Man Who Loved Dogs - US
El hombre que amaba a los perros - US
The Man Who Loved Dogs - UK
The Man Who Loved Dogs - Canada
The Man Who Loved Dogs - India
L'homme qui aimait les chiens - France
Der Mann, der Hunde liebte - Deutschland
L'uomo che amava i cani - Italia
El hombre que amaba a los perros - España
  • Spanish title: El hombre que amaba a los perros
  • Translated by Anna Kushner

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good (if a bit over-complicated) novel of Trotsky's murder, and lost illusions

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 31/1/2014 John Thornhill
Foreign Affairs . 5-6/2014 Richard Feinberg
The Independent . 14/2/2014 Jane Jakeman
The Nation . 28/7/2014 Aaron Thier
The NY Times . 22/1/2014 Álvaro Enrigue
The Spectator . 4/1/2014 Ian Thomson
The Times . 25/1/2014 Kate Saunders
TLS . 19/2/2014 Julius Purcell
Wall St. Journal . 7/2/2014 Bertrand M. Patenaude
The Washington Post . 27/3/2014 Ann Louise Bardach

  From the Reviews:
  • "It is a measure of Paduraís humanity and skill as a novelist that the reader can at times empathise with all three characters despite their cruel actions and manifest flaws. (...) There can be few more insightful explorations of the ways in which communism corroded the human spirit and justified the most monstrous of crimes." - John Thornhill, Financial Times

  • "(I)n this ambitious, at times gripping work of historical fiction, Padura re-creates the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico. The novelist draws a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the outcast Bolshevik, hounded by Joseph Stalin." - Richard Feinberg, Foreign Affairs

  • "Paduraís 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. (...) 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 novelistís gift of turning them into living human beings for whom one can feel pity and fear." - Jane Jakeman, The Independent

  • "So it is a novel about Cuba after all -- Cuba brainwashed and abused, the Ramón Mercader of Cold War politics. But after hundreds of pages of turgid, unleavened prose, this isnít good enough. No doubt Paduraís writing has a very different valence in Cuba, where he is an important figure, an almost-dissident tolerated by the regime; but in translation, The Man Who Loved Dogs doesnít sound relevant or resonant." - Aaron Thier, The Nation

  • "Mr. Paduraís 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 Mercaderís lives. This doesnít impair the book but it does make it a serious reading project" - Álvaro Enrigue, The New York Times

  • "(A) book which is James Ellroy-like in its scope and heft. At nearly 600 pages The Man Who Loved Dogs is certainly too heavy on the wrists, but all the same itís absorbing." - Ian Thomson, The Spectator

  • "Although sometimes too faithful to the original Spanish version (2009), Anna Kushnerís translation does justice to a novel that, like Grossmanís, is a prodigious catalogue of war and upheaval, littered with references to fate, and underpinned by the enjoinder to show individual kindness." - Julius Purcell, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Spy-novel clichés and hard-boiled dialogue (...) 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." - Bertrand M. Patenaude, Wall Street Journal

  • "Padura has written a historical novel of Tolstoyan sweep. The bonus thrill stems from knowing that this horrific tale -- and most of its characters -- are all too true. (...) (A)n exhaustively reported work, chockablock with history" - Ann Louise Bardach, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Man Who Loved Dogs is a three-part, three-stream novel (with a trickle of a fourth closing things off). It begins in Havana, in 2004, as Iván Cárdenas Maturell lays his wife, Ana, to rest. A once-promising young writer, he spent most of his life in the: "very modest position of proofreader at the Veterinaria Cubana magazine" -- but in the 1970s a great story practically fell into his lap, as he encountered an old man who identified himself as Jaime López -- a man who loved dogs (he had his two borzois with him), and a man with a hell of a story to tell. What 'Jaime López' related, over a number of meetings on the beach, was the story of Ramón Mercader -- the man who had killed Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940.
       Padura unfolds the stories slowly, switching back and forth in chapters that focus, respectively, on Iván (who relates events in the first person), Trotsky, and Mercader. The accounts about each of these three main characters don't focus solely on where they intersect; instead, Padura fleshes out their lives: Iván's in a Cuba through its various transitions well into this century, Trotsky's life in exile, and Mercader's from his time in the Spanish Civil War along his various stations, including Mexico, the Soviet Union (after his release from jail in Mexico, in 1960), and Cuba.
       Iván struggles, having largely abandoned writing for a humble life, and is finally crushed when the great love of his life dies after painful, wasting suffering, exacerbated by the lack of ready access to proper food and medicine in the Cuba of the 1990s. The story of 'Jaime López' doesn't come to him all at once: the man disappears before Iván hears it all, and it is only years later that further chunks of it come his way; in any case, he's unsure about what to make of it -- though ultimately he does more or less shape it into a (or rather: this) novel.
       Iván and the reader alike suspect from early on that 'Jaime López' is, in fact, none other than Mercader himself -- though López addresses this head-on, and denies it. By the end it seems even clearer; regardless, the question isn't so much one of authenticity, as Mercader's story is, in any case, one re-seen and re-purposed by the novelist's hand. The versions of events presented here are sufficiently plausible, which suffices.
       (Padura's three-tiered presentation stands the question of authenticity interestingly on its head: Iván's first-person account would seem to be closest to a truth -- straight from the horse's mouth, as it were -- but is of course entirely fiction, Iván an invented figure (with an amusing nod to Padura's more famous invention from his other novels, "my friend and buddy Mario Conde"). The account of Mercader's life, presented here largely second-hand, mixes fact and fiction, while ironically the sections on Trotsky are likely the closest to historical accuracy, his so well-documented life leaving Padura much less room to maneuver and embellish.)
       The Man Who Loved Dogs is very much a novel of lost illusions and failed ideals. Trotsky in exile spends a great deal of time wondering what went wrong -- and watching Stalin's clever (and horrible) tactics in consolidating power and their implications with frustrated fascination from afar. Trotsky professes some self-doubt -- wondering whether he too would have acted similarly if he had been the one to continue on the ascent -- and, of course, has to keep an eye out on the possible consequences for those from his circle and, ultimately, himself. His papers, and his person, are repeatedly threatened.
       Mercader remains the idealist much longer, turning a blind eye to much around him. He is a son of the Spanish Civil War (blind to Stalin's betrayals there until many decades later), who early on is infected:

with that terrifying hate for Leon Trotsky and worship of Stalin, without Ramón being able to imagine where those passions would lead him.
       Only the last of the novel's three sections comes with a subtitle -- 'Apocalypse', the long penultimate chapter in the book set in Moscow in 1968, the crushing of the Prague Spring the final stone crushing Mercader's last illusions of what he gave his life for. In contrast, Iván's disillusionment comes in waves, as the novel also moves through the post-Soviet time, the 1990s -- a time of: "total and interminable crisis" both for him personally and for Cuba, as: "that false equilibrium disappeared with the end of the Soviet Union and the crisis began". Yes, Iván's life comes crashing down several times (including, finally, literally).
       Each of the stories in The Man Who Loved Dogs is gripping. While parts of Iván's account can feel a bit melodramatic, it's an interesting glimpse of an intellectual's attempt to manage and survive in Cuba over the past few decades; if anything, there's too little of it, as he only focuses on a few periods in his life across the decades. The mystery of the story he hears is also an entertaining one -- even if here too the pieces come too piecemeal. Where Padura really shines, however, is in the historical accounts: both the stories of Trotsky and of Mercader are first-rate, and the build-up to the assassination is, even with its foregone outcome, entirely gripping and very well presented.
       If there's a real weakness to the novel it's that the three separate stories remain too separate. Despite the connections and the bits of overlap, and despite the theme of lost illusions prominent in each, The Man Who Loved Dogs doesn't come to feel like a cohesive whole. It's an impressive novel, and a good and thought-provoking and often exciting read, but doesn't all come together.
       Nevertheless, worthwhile both for its depiction and exploration of these historical events, as well as just the thrill of the hunt(s).

       Note: The title of the novel is taken from a Raymond Chandler story that Iván is reading in 1977 when he first encounters 'the man who loved dogs', Jaime López, and his two borzois on the beach
       The book Iván is reading is the Chandler-collection:
Killer in the Rain. It was a Bruguera edition, printed in 1975, and along with the title story it had four others, including one called "The Man Who Loved Dogs".
       About that: yes, in Spanish the name of the Chandler story is 'El hombre que amaba a los perros' -- but the English original is: 'The Man Who Liked Dogs' (first published in the March, 1936 issue of Black Mask).
       Liked, not 'loved'.
       I can sort of understand calling the novel (in its English translation) 'The Man who Loved Dogs' -- but if you're going to mention the Chandler story, you've got to refer to it by its actual name. Surely there can't even be any debate about that.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 June 2014

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The Man Who Loved Dogs: Reviews: Leonardo Padura Fuentes: Other books by Leonardo Padura Fuentes under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes was born in 1955.

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© 2014 the complete review

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