Como always, they found out by e-mail, circulated and recirculated. Leonardo Padura’s readers long ago worked out how to meet their writer. This time it was at the Loyola Center, of the Catholic Church, in Havana.
Two hours of delicacy for an auditorium attentive to the exhibitions on The Transparency of Time, Padura’s most recent novel, and the criteria of the novelist, who, of course, showed face to face the admiration that they continue to profess.
This is the case since the Spanish Tusquets Editores placed it at the top of the international literary market, from the 1990s, when she published the first novel in the Mario Conde saga, Perfect Past. Since then, it has been a fruitful relationship between Padura, its publisher, the market and the abundant reading public around the world, including Cuba, of course. A relationship in which a combination has been essential that distinguishes the writer and journalist: talent, work and dedication, a privileged trilogy that has allowed him to leave the world of Count, successfully enter that of José María Heredia and that of Ramón Mercader and Trotski, and return to his endearing detective without losing the magic and attractiveness of those stories with which he also scours into Cuban reality and becomes the voice of millions.
Driven by admiration and friendship towards Padura, journalist José Antonio Michelena, shower in rehearsal, shows one about the goodness of The Transparency of Time, with Count at the helm. Despite discussing a novel that among the viewers of the room only one had read, the auditorium listens carefully to a series of exhibitor observations aimed at discovering symbols, warnings, eye winks, historical relationships, signs, calls of attention, of Padura.
It provides data and opinions that increase the public’s anxiety about his favorite writer’s new novel, such as that “in The Transparency of Time Mario Conde records the sound and fury of the city of 2014, […] and where the story hidden behind the wood carving of a black virgin takes us to the Middle Ages, in a plot that links multiple wars, in a long scenario that shows the struggles to impose a creed, a religion, an idea…”.
Author of Acercando a Padura, a book that Michelena wrote with detail as a literary inspector, the essayist now recalls that “since his entry into the ring of the black novel, Leonardo Padura crossed the boundaries of criminal intrigue, something that already came in the budgets of the new police novel in Latin America, but which the writer has widened. And it is clear that the international success of his work, that rare conjunction of being acclaimed by the public and the academy, is due to his will and ability to establish relationships between historical, social, political, cultural, religious processes. This capability is underpinned by its constant monitoring of global reality, by nurturing the information generated by the multiple scenarios used and the variety of conflicts that take place on five continents.”
Michelena throws the bow around the neck of those she describes as “depistate and naive, or ill-intentioned critics, who made incorrect readings of The Man Who Loved Dogs or Heretics, unkistaking the connection between the various stories narrated in those novels, even arguing that some were left over. But Ivan’s drama and Trotski’s murder by Ramón Mercader are related and fused into the depiction of the ideas held by The Man Who Loved Dogs, as well as relate to illustrate what the author proposes in Heretics, the multiple heresies revealed in his various plots.”
Michelena’s sobriety is followed by the sparkling exhibition of the writer Roberto Méndez, a man whose fidelity to his Catholic formation leads him to dismantle the liturgy employed by Padura in The Transparency of Time, of which he complains with jocosity. It also points to small detours such as the use of the word cigarette next to cigar and observes details of simple reader, as clarified by his reading.
“Unlike other volumes in the saga,” Mendez points out, “we feel at the end that we are facing a perfectly closed riddle, because the author decides in the epilogue to place a new one that remains unsolved: ‘on December 17, 2014 something would happen, but Count could not know what. Neither Josefina’s experience, nor the new apocalyptic middle condition of Candito El Rojo, could have warned that Cubans would witness the television speeches of Barack Obama and Raul Castro announcing something that seemed more impossible than the taking of San Juan de Acre: the apparent thaw of relations between the United States and Cuba.’
“One reason this novel has interested me, if not enough of the above, is because Count lives much of the book waiting to turn sixty, just what is happening to me, and I know how many unragodly, questions and irrational monologues such a thing awakens, perhaps for the simple reason that it is already absolutely evident that we are not young , but we resist falling into placid and supposedly wise old age.”
He concludes: “The essential thing is that the transparency of time is a new and challenging book, and as I said it came as a reader, I have no right to say that it is valuable, but simply, that I liked it.”
And with that resounding conclusion, Roberto Mendez touches on an issue that holds the first day going: are only critics and specialists fit to judge a novel? Doesn’t a good reader have the right to consider the book he read valuable?
The public really doesn’t care about critics’ ratings, when a book likes or distinguishes a writer. The meeting at the Loyola Center served the specialized dissertations, some were more interested in them than others, but they did not influence the judgment and admiration for their writer. They proved it when it was their turn to talk. Or when they received the news that Padura had been accepted by the Cuban Academy of Language as a corresponding member, a category that makes him a candidate to occupy a position of numerary member, which leads directly to be a member of the Royal Spanish Academy. He was already a corresponding member of the academies of Panama, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. The fact was provided by the essayist Rafael Acosta de Arriba, who had to ask Padura questions, whose answers the auditorium waited with the enthusiasm and expectation with which the boys waited for the break of the piñatas.
Readers also share regocised memories such as that, for several years, Padura, in a survey of the José Martí National Library and the public library network, was the most widely read Cuban writer. And he must be even the most read, despite the delay of his novels in reaching bookstores.
That’s why Rafael Acosta asks him when he will be on the island The transparency of time, and Padura provokes collective laughter: “we are in an appropriate place for this answer: when God wills”. It clarifies that the novel is delivered to Unión, its publisher in Cuba for thirty years, which in the coming weeks will decide whether to publish it. “I hope the publication of the novel is decided,” he said with his usual help.
Union has pending the re-editing of the novels of the four seasons, which should have been ready during the 2017 Havana Book Fair, according to Padura himself. “They have not come out because of technical, organizational problems. They always give me a similar answer, but not the same, and I try not to insist too much not to put editors in a difficult position.”
When Tusquets Editores, its publisher for thirty years, publishes a novel by Padura, it gives Union a copy, and when it is decided to publish it in Cuba, the publishers do their work for the island, “which is always an important revision so that these cigarettes do not leave along with cigarettes, which sometimes costs work for a non-Cuban publisher to see them. And I’m going to have to take a tour… the problem is that the church of Mantilla is closed, and my collaborator, who was Father Mendez, is no longer there, and it seems that I invented a church,” Padura says in reference to Roberto Méndez’s points.
Even if Union approves it tomorrow, The transparency of time will have to wait a year after the exit in the Spanish market, due to commercial rules established by publishers, so that around 3,000 or 4,000 copies, a figure usual for the Cuban editions of Padura, would circulate in early 2019, to mitigate – impossible to calm it with that amount – the thirst of the Koranic readers for their literature.
The best that readers of these encounters enjoy are the interventions of Padura, when he thinks about topics that underlie or are in the shoes of his books, such as that of friendship, that Mario Conde insistently treees and that his creator crumbles for his faithful audience.
“Hemingway once said that as the writer advances in his career he is being left alone. The time required by the craft of literature, and at the moment the craft of promotion, which is part of the literary exercise but which is independent, robs me of an enormous amount of time that I cannot devote to more personal matters. And that’s why I have a relationship with many of my friends that is curiously more intense with those outside Cuba because when I’m out of Cuba those friends come to see me and I’m going to look for them and those who are in Cuba are always there and see each other sometimes.
“One of those friends, who lives outside, recently told me something very important to me: ‘You don’t know to what extent for us, that we’ve been your friends all our lives, knowing that you’re there, that you’re still in the same place, is an important reference for us.’
“And it is that life, Padura clarifies, has been very complicated for our generation, that has lived a life in which practically all things have happened to us, without being asked for permission to pass us by. And for these friends, knowing that there is that benchmark, in the same place, in the same house, making a memory rescue, is important. It’s very important to me, but I didn’t have the dimension of how important it is to them.
“In the case of Count, Padura concludes, his relationship with this group of friends has not only a human dimension, it also has a dramatic dimension because through the encounter with these friends, we know how Count thinks, how friends think, talk about what is happening in count’s investigations, and serves me to reveal information and moods.”
These quotes, on the other hand, reveal the moods of his readers, the temperature of the link between reader and writer, established on a loyalty that strengthens with the ability to wait, wait, to wait for Leonardo Padura’s next novel to finally come out of print. Ω