The Man Who Loved Dogs: A Novel

By Leonardo Padura

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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Excellent portrayal of an era and person not very well known. The Cuba I know . Very we'll written. A period in history that has been kept under wraps for very long!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
It did
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
marcy wynhoff
The Dog Master: A Novel of the First Dog :: The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia - Book 6) by C. S. Lewis (2002-07-01) :: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs - Roscoe Riley Rules #1 :: The Silver Chair (The Chronicles Of Narnia) :: A Man of His Own
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
beccah kornberg
A beautiful novel that it is an indictment of all dictatorships. Poignant portraits of its three main characters. Incredible research and documentation. I wish I could have read it in the original Spanish.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
v ctor
This book falls way short of expectations generated from the book cover. While dealing with politics, espionage and mystery, its 570 pages should have been trimmed by at least 250. This is a multi-generational tale of the Exiled Trotsky, his Kremlin-trained Assassin Ramon, and -- the latter generation -- the Failed-Writer Ivan, who represents society burdened by the corrupted socialist/communist revolution. The author's sentences are run-on and the text gets repetitious, particularly about the "visceral fear" that Stalin evoked. The novel's suspense is muted, whereas this fear and psychological facet surely would surely have hit the readers soul in just 30 pages of writing by the likes of Edgar Allen Poe. The book does provide an insight into Stalin and the Kremlin, with its big lies and propaganda, internal rule of fear to consolidate power (eliminate potential opponents in the rear flank and those who know your lies), and tactics (played like chess, 30 moves in advance). In this sense, the villain Stalin and his mechanisms (stay in power and build a legacy country; purge opposition and those who might threaten rulership; tactical alliance with fascists despite it being a contrary politic) provide an insight into Vladimar Putin and his recent annexation of Crimea. I loathe rating any novel two stars and the author spent 3 years on this work, but its 570 page content is excessive, at least for this American reader. [...]
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
wendy b
This book is a wonderful mix of history and fiction, well -written to keep the pages turning even as the historical outcome is already known.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
I mostly read non-fiction these days, and I got interested in reading Leonardo Padura because as a partisan of the Cuban Revolution, I'm interested in what Cubans are writing and reading, and he seems to be the most popular writer in Cuba. I love his Mario Conde novels; I view them less as detective stories than as social criticism, but the mystery form works well for him. I still have one to go. The fact that he is introducing Trotsky to Cuban readers is significant, but the real question is the form in which he's introduced. Someone I know who was at the recent Havana Book Fair said that Cuban Communists he knows who admire Trotsky are not thrilled with the book, although that may not be a representative sampling.

I like the form of this novel: The alternating stories of Trotsky; his assassin Ramón Mercader; and Padura's alter ego, the semi-fictional writer Iván Cárdenas, who meets Mercader in Cuba. The fact that the three stories aren't quite in sync with each other also makes it more interesting. It's starts out as quite an exciting novel, but soon moves into a slow, long narrative. What I like best about the Mario Conde novels is that while there isn't really a lot of action, the writing style makes me feel like I'm on a proverbial roller coaster ride. It's impossible for me to read them slowly. A lot more happens in this novel, but I found myself feeling bogged down in somewhat dull writing.

The New York Times review talks about "its Tolstoyan passion for historical trifles and Dostoyevskyan pleasure in examining the moral life of its characters." I have no pretensions to being a literary critic.

Padura did a lot of research for this novel, in a number of different countries. But while the only place I've been that Trotsky ever lived is where I live, New York, I believe I've read more Trotsky than Padura. Padura mentions some of his sources, through what Iván reads, and the fiction that someone left a copy of The Revolution Betrayed for Mercader in prison.

Sometimes historical fiction is pure conjecture, since we know little about the words spoken by historical figures. But sometimes we know a great deal. Padura uses some material directly from Trotsky (for example from Trotsky's Testament), but in other cases where Trotsky has given us (better) dialogue (as with Konrad Knudsen in Norway in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36)), Padura is likely unaware of it. What he was unaware of, and what he chose to change for his novel, one can only speculate on. In some cases it matters little; in other cases quite a bit.

Padura has Trotsky conversing with the Turkish fisherman Kharalambos, while in reality they had no language in common; an unimportant detail. But then Padura has Trotsky determined to write a biography of Stalin, while his publisher is intent on one about Lenin. In reality the exact opposite is true, and it does make a difference to the personality and politics of Trotsky.

I enjoyed the fictional meeting between George Orwell and Mercader in Spain, although I don't know if Orwell introduced himself to people by his pen name or his real name Eric Blair.

Most of what is true about Ramon Mercader comes from The Mind of an Assassin, and some dialogue is taken directly from words spoken or written by Trotsky's secretary Joseph Hansen, his wife Natalia Sedova, and from Sylvia Ageloff, who Mercader seduced for his assassination plans.

The historical novels I personally most like are ones like The Year of the French, where the major players of the Irish Revolution of 1798 are fairly minor characters in the novel, and the major characters are fictional. What you get through the fictional dialogue and the narrative is an impressive analysis of the contradictions within the ranks of the revolution, and a feel for what was going on. Even though I partially disagree with Thomas Flanagan, he gives a remarkable view of the failed revolution. Then there's Strumpet City, a novel about the Dublin Lockout of 1913. While labor leader Jim Larkin is portrayed through his actual words and deeds, and while his presence looms large, again, the main characters are fictional.

Padura portrays quite accurately the gangsterism of Stalinism; that's a strong point. But he has the Left Opposition led by Trotsky losing because of an error by Trotsky. Trotsky made plenty of errors, but none were decisive in this. The death of Lenin played a major role. The backwardness of Russia, the fact that socialist revolution in Germany didn't succeed, although it remained a very real possibility at least through 1923, the overthrow of the brief Soviet Republic in Hungary; these were far more important factors in what unfolded. The bureaucracy grew conservative, and developed the theory of "socialism in one country" using the Communist International simply as a means to carry out foreign policy of the USSR. The bureaucracy and the Communist Party grew through massive recruitment of opportunist job-seeking Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries. It was less and less the party of Lenin. These are what mattered most, not a battle between two individuals.

Is the novel cynical? That's subject to interpretation, and different characters, including (semi?) fictional friends of the semi-fictional Iván Cárdenas represent somewhat different points of view. The main idea that I see is that there was a possibility of creating world socialism, which Padura calls "utopia," but it was lost, and that's the end of it. But then, that's how Padura sees Cuba also. He paints a true picture of it, but not the whole truth as I see it. Unlike the Soviet Union, where it vanished quite early, internationalism is still alive in Cuba. What they accomplished in Angola helped to free South Africa; that remains alive in Cuba, South Africa, and even here in the US. They send doctors all over the world, and teachers to many countries.

Some Cuban immigrants today are delighted when they see activity on behalf of the Cuban Five. Most Cuban-Americans at least support an end to the embargo. The capitalist press naturally pays more attention to the difficulties in Cuba than those of its colony Puerto Rico, where massive numbers are coming to the US, but they don't need a visa, and don't get characterized as political refugees.

Ultimately, the fate of the Cuban Revolution is tied to that of the world revolution. What exists today is very contradictory--one of the worst crises in the history of capitalism, but not yet massive response by the working class, although there are important struggles. Revolutionary parties are tiny in the few countries where they exist. But Stalinism was one of the greatest obstacles to revolution, and that's near its end. The working class will not play dead while their wages and social wages plummet, and jobs are fewer and fewer. I retain my revolutionary optimism.

For those interested in the life of Leon Trotsky, I first recommend My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography. The Trotsky trilogy by Isaac Deutscher (clearly used by Padura) remains the best biography, although it's at it's weakest point on Trotsky in Mexico. I dislike Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary, but it does make extensive use of Joseph Hansen's archives, and that's worthwhile reading.

For understanding why Stalinism won, besides Revolution Betrayed I suggest reading Lenin's Final Fight: Speeches and Writings, 1922-23, the three volume Challenge of the Left Opposition, and The Third International after Lenin.

And if you're interested in Trotsky on literature, read Art and Revolution: Writings on Literature, Politics, and Culture and Literature and Revolution.

08/05/2014. A friend of mine who also likes Padura as a writer, and reads him in Spanish thought I was not critical enough. He's right. The whole thing about Trotsky in his last exile plagued by doubts, haunted by the ghost of Kronstadt, had already been done to death in both fiction and "non-fiction." It has no resemblance to the actual revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Also, Padura overstates the difficulty of finding books by Trotsky in Cuba. For 25 years (this year makes it 26) Pathfinder Press has had a display at the yearly Havana Book Fair, which includes all its Trotsky titles, in several languages. All the books sold there are sold below cost, so Cubans can afford them, not that I think Padura would have any problem paying full price.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
heather stoner
could have been better, takes too many turns, may confuse a reader who is not aware of the story, and the name of Bronsfeld is erased, easy to be lost in the tale, puts Trotsky(trinity)under too good a light. but enjoyable besides the hurdles.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
rachel main
I found this book to be unnecessarily long and very heavy to read. Furthermore, the author does not explain the different actors as they appear in the narrative. The reader has to use his- her imagination to figure out who are they and where do they come form. It is not a book to be read by someone who is not well versed in russian history.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
matthew savoca
It is one of the worst books I read in a long time.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
micah mcdaniel
Were it not for Leonardo Padura's miraculously singular takeover of the Police-Procedural genre, Farrar Straus & Giroux would never have come upon the idea of choosing the exceedingly long and overwritten The Man Who Loved Dogs as the first American translated and published Padura novel. Well, that's not exactly so. FSG probably did a financial summary of how many hardcover copies of Roberto Bolano's exceedingly long and overwritten books they have sold and decided to push the envelope toward the cash drawer some more. Which is really sad, because this book is B-O-R-I-N-G. And it debases the marvelous and mesmerizing British translations of his Havana Quartet police novels that exceed the previous boundaries of the genre to truly be entertaining, page-turning literature.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
katie stegeman
A confusing book full of characters, some with more han one name. Not an esy read nor a page turner. Probably I should read it again to make sure zi understand the different, yey parallel story line
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jason saldanha
Great for people like Obama that thinks socialism is just!!! Good intentions end in a road to hell not only that we chamge freedom for a prmisse of security that will never materialize
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
katy keprta
The story of three men whose lives become intertwined across decades and continents, the book primarily tells of the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. Its purpose runs deeper though: to look at the corruption and failure of the utopian dream of communism and to inspire compassion for the people caught up in this vast and dreadful experiment.

Iván is a failed writer living in Cuba under Castro. Having inadvertently crossed the regime in his youth, he has lost confidence in his ability to write anything worthwhile that will be acceptable under the strict censorship in force at the time. We meet him as his wife is dying, in the near present. He tells her of a man he once knew, the man who loved dogs, and of the strange story this man told him. His wife asks him why he never wrote the story, and the book is partly Iván's attempt to explain his reluctance.

The story the man who loved dogs told Iván is of Ramón Mercader del Rio, a young Spaniard caught up in the Spanish Civil War, who is recruited by the Stalinist regime to assassinate Stalin's great enemy, Trotsky. This introduces the two main strands of the novel which run side by side, with Iván's story fading somewhat into the background. We follow Ramón through the Spanish Civil War, learning a good deal about that event as we go, and seeing the idealism which drove many of those on the Republican side to believe that the USSR was a shining beacon to the masses of the world. And we meet Trotsky just as he is exiled from the USSR, with Stalin re-writing history to portray him as a traitor to the Revolution.

This is a monumental novel, both in length and in the depth of detail it presents. I found it fascinating although I felt that huge swathes of it read more like factual history and biography than a fully fictionalised account of events. I've spent much of the last year immersed in the history of the Russian Revolution, and I felt strongly that without all my recently gained knowledge of the politics and personalities, I would have struggled badly both to understand and to maintain my interest in this. I did struggle a bit with all the various factions in the Spanish Civil War, although in the end I was rather clearer about this muddled period of history than I had been before. Once Ramón left that arena to become a tool of the USSR, I felt I was back on more solid ground, however.

Although Padura occasionally refers to some of the atrocities that were carried out by Trotsky or in his name, the overall tone of the book is rather sympathetic to him. This jarred a little – I do see the romantic appeal of Trotsky as a great thinker and orator and a fanatical idealist, but I'm not convinced that he would have been much of an improvement over Stalin had history played out differently and put Trotsky in power. There's a distinct suggestion that Trotsky's actions were forgiveable because they were carried out against enemies of the Revolution, whereas Stalin's crimes were far worse because he turned on those who had fought alongside him to bring the Revolution into being. Firstly, I wasn't convinced by the historical accuracy of this assessment as it related to Trotsky, and secondly... well, an atrocity is an atrocity, surely, however it's justified.

Where the book excels, though, is in the pictures it paints of the lives of Trotsky in exile and Ramón being trained, or brainwashed, depending on how you view it, to be his assassin. The Trotsky strand feels very well grounded in truth, with a lot of references to documented events. Trotsky in the book comes over as a man still fixated on the idea of a Marxist revolution, and obsessed with proving his innocence of the charges of treason against him.

His assassin I know nothing about in real life, so can't say if the same truthfulness applies there. But the Ramón in the book is a fascinating character. We are shown his childhood and relationship with his mother, whose early adoption of communism led her son to take up arms in the Spanish Civil War and introduced him to the Soviet agent who would recruit him. Then we see the brainwashing techniques employed by the Soviets, and Ramón's life under different identities as a sleeper, waiting for the call to act. True or not, it's all entirely credible and convincing.

The third story, that of Iván, felt extraneous to me – yet another excuse for a writer to write about the difficulties of being a writer, a subject which seems to be endlessly fascinating to writers but about which I personally have read more than enough. It does however cast some light on life in Cuba under its own communist regime and as such earns its place in the book, even if I sighed a little each time we ended up back in Iván's company.

The quality of the writing is excellent and for the most part so is the translation by Anna Kushner. There are occasional strange word choices though – sheepherders? Shepherds, surely? - and it uses American spelling and vocabulary – shined, rather than shone, etc. Padura's deep research is complemented by his intelligence and insight, all of which mean that the book is more than a novel – it's a real contribution to the history of 20th century communism across the world, looked at from a human perspective. My only caveat is as I mentioned earlier – without some existing knowledge of the history, it may be a struggle to get through. But for anyone with an interest in the USSR, Cuba or the Spanish Civil War, I'd say it's pretty much an essential read and one I highly recommend.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
meg barrett
This story is about built duty in young men. First, there is the builders. Then there is the young men. Then the killing and finally the regret. Part of this story occurs in Norway, Chap. 13, and could probably have been shortened.

A Norwegian reader.
When we come to part 3 of this story, we are in Moscow in 1968 Chap. 29. In that year, in Norway, a party called the Labor’s party, the Marxist, Leninists, APK- ml became a small, but out-of- proportion visible force in Norwegian youth politics (they never entered the parliament). The most pronounced change was that people, that before were my friends, started saying" Knut, you are lying" instead of "Knut, you are wrong". "Lev Davidovich concluded that if many times he had doubted about the faithfulness of his friends, he could be sure of the perseverance of his enemies, whichever party or fraction they were in." p. 100.

Unexplainable characters?
This novel make me think back on that time. How could normal friends become obeying puppets? Does this novel explain it, or part of it, or scratches into it? Not really, but then it may be unexplainable. Like agoraphobia to someone who likes open landscapes. Maybe the novel explains to one set of readers, but a brain scan would explain to another set of readers?

As an historic novel.
This is not a detective novel. But it is very close to, and at the same time much more. It tells the story of the communist and revolutionary era in Spain, France, Russia, Mexico and Cuba at the beginning of the 1900 century. Again, and for the uncritical and partly ignorant reader like me, it gives a preamble to what happened in my country 60 years later.

A quotable text
The text is well written with quotable sentences almost on every page: "Long before Eitington put it into paleontological terms," p. 536... "There was a man with a Slavic face.." p. 157. In most parts, it is a page-turner. In some parts- not. The author even have a parenthesis: "if you have come this far, you already know) p. 566.

A difficult text
In some parts it was exceedingly difficult to follow who was who and what was what. At the beginning of Chapter 11, I tried to make an arrow diagram of who was friend/ foe with whom. Reading on, I had to go back to change the arrow directions. Moving on, I had to merge groups that turned out to be the same groups, but identified with different names. However, for people reading faster than me this is an excellent novel. For people reading as slowly as me, it is possible to read only the first pages of every chapter from Part 2 and on. However, it might then be another book than the one intended by the author.

Citations: “..he chose to accept the blame that was his and to pass on the rest that was not” p. 103
“Confirming that in misery every detail is a luxery. Lev..” p. 2 0 “Jaime Lopez was Jaime Ramon Mercader del Rio. “ p.490

“Because in those days the true Ramon Mercader., young and full of faith, was not afraid of death: he had opened all the windows of his spirt to the collective mind, to the struggle for a world of justice and equality, and if he had died fighting for the better world, he would have earned himself an eternal spot in the paradise of pure heroes.” P. 558.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
ryan casey
Cuban author Padura made himself a name as a crime fiction writer. Crime is also in the center of this bulky novel: the assassination of Leo Trotsky in his Mexican exile in 1940, called project 'Duck' by the Russian Secret service.
The book title is an homage to Raymond Chandler, who wrote a short story called 'The man who loved dogs'. The book is more history novel than crime fiction, though.

Three life stories are told: that of Trotsky, from his deportation in 1929 to his death, with reflections on the earlier years of revolution. The life of the assassin, a Spanish recruit to Stalin's hit squad, with insight on Europe in the 1930s. And that of a Cuban writer, who meets the 'retired' assassin and learns the big story. He provides insights in Cuban circumstances.
This is historically interesting, but too compact for people without some background knowledge on the Soviet Union and the Spanish civil war.
Is it more than a look at interesting times? Does it transcend the fictionalization of facts and tell us more than we can gather from a good Wikipedia entry?
Alas, no. The author uses a lot of material, but doesn't really make it live.
I tend to agree with the view of a reviewer in the this is literature for bibliophile bureaucrats.

Trotsky's personal worries don't really concern me much. Would the world have been a better place with the SU under him rather than under Stalin? Well, maybe he would have been smarter about Hitler, which might have made World War 2 a smaller event. Maybe. Would he have done with less domestic murder? Maybe. Would he have been more aggressive about 'exporting revolution?' Also maybe. The balance is hard to evaluate.
The killer's life is more interesting, as is the writer's. Most interesting to me the reaction of the Cuban to the story. I just wish it were better written.

Do not expect any of the strengths of Latin literature. Don't even think of Bolaño, or Cortázar, or García Márquez. Nor should you expect the kind of deep probing that we got from Arthur Koestler, George Orwell or Danilo Kiš. And don't expect Chandler's level of language. This is simple, old fashioned and mediocre fare.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
A question raised in this novel: should one feel compassion for a murderer once one understands his 'story' or motivation, and if, moreover, one accompanies him on his tortuous journey of moral regeneration? What if you feel compassion despite yourself? It's not an idle question. Today more than ever, there are programmed human automatons running around the globe committing acts of unspeakable atrocity which they justify in terms of a high noble cause - a cause that they would unhesitatingly die for - but also kill for. Should genuine remorse following rehabilitation absolve them? Two other examples from classic literature come readily to mind - the protagonists in Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and in Camus' "The Stranger/The Outsider." Padura's monumental work certainly belongs in that company. He has composed a work of art that elevates humanity and shows that we have qualities that place us on a par with the gods. It makes me proud to be human when I see what humans are capable of - thanks Mr Padura!

I'm reminded of another reference from Dostoevsky (from his "The Brothers Karamazov) where he observes that we human beings are capable of producing godlike acts but at the same time, we can also be as evil as the devil. Padura's opus illustrates this with marvelous acuity.

One more comment: the metaphor concerning the love of dogs is interesting not only because it clearly highlights the irony inherent in our love for dogs co-existing with our hatred for people, but the choice of borzois accentuates the point, because of their elegance and beauty. In a bleak world, does our ability to love and to love beauty offer us a slim hope of redemption?

Padura just needs to produce one or two more works to match "The Man Who Loved Dogs" to come into serious Nobel contention.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
abe kazemzadeh
After Havana Blue I'm not able to read his works
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
andy mann
Leonardo Padura did outstanding research to write this book. I don't know how the translation is in English. The writing in Spanish is exquisite. I am a Spaniard who was born in the Spain of the 50's and I was familiarized with parts of the story. This book was a very hard read at times. So many hopes the period after the Russian revolution brought to many people in the Spain of the 30's, during the Spanish Civil war, and after. So much of the misery shown in the book was found necessary then by well meaning revolutionaries.
My cousin who lives in Spain and I were talking about the book a while ago. We both had the same reaction; we loved the book and were emotionally exhausted and sad by the end of the book. We only wished our parents would have had the chance to read it. Kudos for Leonardo Padura.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
I've read it in the portuguese translation, don't know about the english one. It touched me as few books did before (among Kundera, Vargas Llosa and Dostoievski). I've known in my family people who lived dilemmas of guilt very similar to the characters, of having believed the utopia and having later discovered that they were hideously manipulated. Padura gives flesh to history as beautifully and painfully as it gets. En passant you will learn a lot of history the best way: as a tread of human lives, blood and soul, not lifeless pretentious analyses. Thanks Padura.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Two hundred pages longer than it should be, this book will suffocate you with details about Trotsky's life and related historical events. The third person narrator dominates the novel, to the detriment of its characters. If you're a Trotsky fan, you'll love this book and will read it quickly. All others: have a comfy head pillow handy. I tried hard to be the man who loved this book, but I just couldn't do it, despite the decent writing.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Great research but poor writing: too stretched out and language is not enjoyable to read, could be just poor translation but where was the editor?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This novel is a modern masterpiece. The book is a finely crafted historical novel with well-developed characters. Padura takes the reader to the Spanish Civil War, Moscow, Mexico, Cuba with a flawless narrative that rewards the reader. While modern-day critics ask "where is the Great American Novel?" they should look here where they will find a great novel period.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Seldom does a book originally written in Spanish become well known and considered great in every way, This is the case with "The Man Who Loved Dogs" in English. Several friends of mine and I have concluded that this may be the finest book we have ever read.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jessica lam
This novel brings a familiar history to life. A page-turner!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
I loved his prior mysteries but this one is a really boring book and, if that is not bad enough, in this book they kill dogs for no reason.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Very interesting story, very well written!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Shades of Eric Ambler and John LeCarre. Doubtless these masters and their colleeagues were inspired by the laberinthine international intrigues we learn about in this history.
Ironic ,is it not, how tales murder, betrayal and vengenence relax us as we contemplate them at our firesides?
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
beth clifton
a beautifully written book with well crafted characters trotsky becomes human instead of an ideological artifact a stunning reminder of the horrors of stalinism
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Padura is the best Cuban writer in the last decades.He has written about true things that have happened in Cuba in the last years. He has written about corruption,murders,school problems,the generation before and after the " special period " and has done this having the daily Cuban life as a background. His detective Mario Conde is an example of what I have just written. When he wrote about Jose Maria Heredia he showed the similarities in the life of people who have to leave their country. The Man Who Loved Dogs is, without a doubt, fantastic.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
beth lundgreen
I gave up (something I never do) on this overwritten, hard -to-read piece of dog droppings. I could not get past chapter 2.
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