Chance made me meet in Guadalajara, at the home of my Cuban-Mexican friend Waldo Saavedra, when one of my references in journalism – his reports in Juventud Rebelde marked time when I wrote my first notes – I visited the state of Jalisco and was invited by him to an evening in Los Gavilanes, the estate of the suburbs where the painter resides. Leonardo Padura – who was declared Doctor Honoris Causa of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) – presented himself as well, as I met him on the rocks of El Caimán Barbudo in the eighties: one more, almost choosing to go unnoticed.
Among so many people present, it was impossible for me to address it. He had prepared a questionnaire so as not to miss the opportunity to have him as shot as the central characters of The Man Who Loved Dogs were among themselves. I didn’t mean to assault him with my impertinence. But again, thanks to Waldo – and the writer’s humility – I was able to dig into some of his thoughts.
What does writer Padura have of the journalist he is, and vice versa?
“I think since I started trying to write, and since I’ve written in a more or less professional way, journalism and literature have been two complementary forms of expression, in which, at every moment, I have put what the need or capacity of these expressive forms has allowed me to do. I am a writer-journalist and also a journalist-writer, and my fictions and reports are absolutely contaminated with one expression and another. Through journalism I evacuate concerns that I cannot bring to my novels, and from novels, which I cannot or want to solve in a journalistic text, but I do not discriminate social and aesthetic importances from one or the other. Journalism, moreover, especially the one I did in the eighties, was decisive for my evolution as a writer, because it allowed me to work forms, languages, structures that I would then lead to my novels… And, in fact, I am still both today, I express myself in both means, and I give each one all the dignity he deserves.”
Is writing an act of loneliness, of selfishness…?
“It is an act of social solitude. You don’t understand, do you? It’s easy: you need the solitude of the studio to write something that will be projected socially and that you intend to share with a lot of people, the more, the better. Selfishness has to do with time, with the privacy needed to focus and dedicate yourself to writing, but not to the thinking and communicative purposes of what you write. That communication is much more important to me precisely because of that spirit of journalist who does not abandon me.
“In my case, which I also make a literature with obvious social interest, there is little room for selfishness: I always think of the context around me, in communicating with him, in establishing relationships with the potential reader.”
What itinerary would you propose to anyone who wants to know the world?
“That’s complicated. There are those who can travel and know the world; there are those who don’t even know or like to read and can’t know it that way. I think moving, reading, consuming art is a way to get to know the world. In the specific case of literature, of the novel, it is always a form of knowledge: of the human condition, of the behaviors of present and past societies, sometimes even future. If literature does not reveal something new, or at least – seen from another perspective – it does not fulfil its best functions… One of them is to know others, near or far away, penetrate the soul of things. and meet them.”
And what authors would you suggest if the purpose is to understand man?
“The list can be infinite, in fact it is, and I dare not make it. I believe that from Homer and the biblical chroniclers we have enough written material to understand man and know of his uncertainties and realizations, his fears and hopes.”
Cubans usually say that we are the funniest, the most erotic, the most… what is the most and which the least with which would Leonardo Padura define his compatriots?
“I would define myself as a frustrated pelotero who found in literature a way of living, and I exploit it to the fullest: with my effort and with my work, with my persistence and with my discipline, focused on what I think is important. I always say I’m not the most talented writer of my generation, but I’m the hardest-working.
“With regard to my compatriots, I would define them as gregarious, up-and-coming, proud, supportive. These are some of his virtues, which can become his great flaws. I would also say that they practice the art of envy in a refined way and few things cost them more work than assimilating the success of a compatriot, especially if success is due to work rather than opportunism and beachership. We are a very special people, but not so much as to believe us the best… something that often happens to us.”
Was it worth the 21st century?
“The future is always worth it, because it’s supposed to be better than the past, even if sometimes you have your doubts. more than justified. Anyway, it is the time we lived and we must take advantage of the good that it offers us and regret how good we have lost. Many times these feelings of loss respond to generational nostalgia, to our particular visions of a past that we sometimes intend to consider perfect, even if for others it does not make sense or has been a time unfortunate. Now, what we have, is the 21st century, and… to live it, that after all what has been given to us on Earth is two days.” Ω