A Cuban Novel About Trotsky’s Assassination

the man who loved dogs

The Man Who Loved Dogs

By Leonardo Padura

Translated by Anna Kushner (2013)

Book Review

The Man Who Loved Dogs is a fictional account of the Stalinist Conspiracy to assassinate Leon Trotsky in Mexico in 1940. Havana author Leonardo Padura uses three distinct perspectives to relate his story: that of Trotsky and his family, that of his assassin Roman Mercader and that of a failed Cuban writer who accidentally encounters Mercader on a Cuban beach in the 1970s as he’s on the verge of death.

The conspiracy is vaguely reminiscent of the JFK assassination conspiracy, in that it was meticulously planned and took three years to set in motion. Mercader was a Spanish Communist recruited by Stalin’s agents and brought to the USSR for specialized intelligence training. Posing as a Belgian journalist, he cultivated an American Trotskyite girlfriend to facilitate his entry into the high security compound where Trotsky’s family lived in Coyoacan Mexico.

The early part of the book contains long sections about the Spanish Civil War. These focus on Stalin’s brutal efforts to undermine the Spanish Revolution by assassinating anarchist and Trotskyite rivals, including members of the International Brigades. He then proceeded to abandon Spain’s Republican government to Franco’s fascists to improve his negotiating position with Hitler.

The History of Trotsky’s Exile

The narrative from Trotsky’s perspective begins with his forced exile to Turkey in 1929. He’s eventually offered asylum in France and Norway, both of which expel him (under pressure from local communists) after a few months. These sections also focus on Trotsky’s dismay regarding Stalin’s decade of show trials and executions, which systematically eliminated the primary Bolshevik luminaries responsible for the 1917 revolution, as well as one-third of the leadership of the Soviet Army.

Prior to 1990 Books About Trotsky Banned in Cuba

The narrative based on the fictional Cuban writer focuses on the intellectual and artistic repression that characterized the early Castro regime and the severe hardship (literal starvation in many cases) that began when the USSR collapsed in 1989 and Cuba ceased to have access to cheap soviet oil essential to their system of industrial agriculture.

Prior to the 1990s, books by or about Trotsky were banned in Cuba, as they were in the USSR. As Padura reminds us in his acknowledgements, Cubans of his generation grew up totally unaware that Trotsky or Trotskyism even existed. From this perspective, one can’t help but marvel at his extensive research into Trotsky’s personal and political history, as well as the Spanish Civil War and Stalin’s show trials.

8 thoughts on “A Cuban Novel About Trotsky’s Assassination

  1. There is some kind of connection of Trotsky and D H Lawrence. Was it through Lawrence’s wife Frieda? I know that they lived in Mexico as well. Trotsky was killed by an ice-pick piercing his skull.

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  2. I will certainly look this book up. I read a Barbara Kingsolver fiction set in Mexico. It weaved a grand narrative with the protagonist becoming a part of the Trotsky household. For American fiction it had so many twists, ending up with the effects of Macarthyism! Thanks for sharing this one.

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  3. I’m a big Kingsolver fan and read The Lacuna shortly after it came out. Padura focuses much more on the political background of the assassination team, particularly their involvement in the Spanish Civil War. He also focuses heavily on the time the assassin spent in Cuba following his release from prison, which enables him to provide intriguing insights into Cuban life.

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