The Man who Loved Dogs

Leonardo Padura

This is a moody story by a contemporary Cuban author about a suppressed Cuban author working as a proofreader who meets the man who killed Trotsky. What a wonderful perspective from which to examine so many interesting questions.

This is such a long book that I hesitate to recommend it. I tried several times to stop but I could not. Padura is fastidious in tying up loose ends which is very important in a story like this. Do not give up halfway thru; the last half is a worthy summary of the disillusions.

I read few novels but I treasure movies that take me to far away places and times and cultures. This does two of those three in abundance.
See this fascinating review. As the reviewer says you may need some of Trotsky’s background to make sense of the story.

We begin hovering above Trotsky as he is finally expelled from Russia. Depiction of hardship and intrigue are ample. No particle of substance of reason for expulsion is mentioned. I am left to assume that it was purely a matter of power against power. You get no sense of what Trotsky sought, except a return to power and adulation. The revolution had been stolen by Stalin but from whom? Trotsky?

Perhaps this is the nearest thing I have found to an official Cuban perspective on the novel. It describes the book well.
Around location 500 I learn why Stalin wanted to kill Trotsky or at least the excuse designed for the assassin: Trotsky was working against the communists in the Spanish civil war.

Padura paints Trotsky as a troublemaker—perhaps a troublemaker for a good cause but a real troublemaker. Padura still gives no hint at policy differences between Stalin and Trotsky. Trotsky understood how duplicitous Stalin was but Padura gives no reason to think that Trotsky would be better, except as he portrays Trotsky’s anguish. Padura writes to those who have already made up their minds on Trotsky.

Padura speaks of a biography by Trotsky that puts forth differences between Trotsky and Lenin. That is the first indirect reference I have seen to what might be policy differences.

Text 1000:1023 is a bombshell. Trotsky contemplates whether the proletariate are competent to rule themselves.

L 1211: Party loyalty over competence—a force from Moscow.


Thus did Stalin use Trotsky as an excuse for repression. Some suggest that the powerful need enemies to stay in power. There is a suggestion that Stalin’s directions to the German communist party were motivated by his hope that Hitler would provide another enemy. Bizarre.

L 1873: Here we hear of the conflict on the left between the Trotskyites and camp supported from Moscow. Aside from a few brief slogans which mean little to me it sounds still like a battle for power, not principle.

L 2967: We hear much more about the conflict between the contingents on the left than between the left and the right.

L 3413: The text, from Trotsky’s perspective describes Trotsky’s confinement in Norway and Trotsky’s circumvention of restrictions on communication. Other channels convince me that Stalin’s duplicity is accurately described here. That gives me little confidence in Trotsky’s character, however. I still find it credible that this was a mere conflict of personalities.

L 4221:The questions arises: “Who was Trotsky? — What was he about?”. It is not answered.

L 4490: Turmoil: No clue yet about policy. “Anarchist”, the bare word, once used among adjectives for Trotsky’s friends—hardly a governing outline. Personal conflict between Stalin and Trotsky is the only thing in focus. Stalin’s capacity for deceit is in plain view. Trotsky’s capacity, if any, is thwarted.

L 4533:

‘Theories’? What theories?

L 4557:

This would seem to be a message that cannot be translated into text. At least it does not appear here. Padura’s description of Trotsky’s speech does convey the implausibility of the claims from Moscow.

L 4717: As Padura paints the Spanish civil war, here and earlier, it was the communists who won the war for Franco; they seemingly spent more time purging each other than the Franco forces.

L 8188: Very near Trotsky’s end we hear ideas that set him apart from some communist factions.

L 8749: Wounded

There follows an interesting stream of consciousness set in about the year 2000 of a disillusioned communist with no inkling of any other idea to believe in. The new era is seen only as “each for himself”.

L 9559: Padura is cleaning up many loose ends.

L 9882: Eitigon, the assassin’s controller’s late name, over vodka, suggests something vague but uncommunist—a society where you can at least say what you like even if it does no good.

L 9993:

Perhaps the only quid-pro-quo in the book.

L 10361: At the end Padura distances himself from Trotsky’s fanaticism.

The notion that some people get rich thru mere competence to create wealth does not appear in this book—even as an idea to ridicule.

Padura detests Stalin even more than I.

Several points in the book agonize over democracy vs. communism.

This book reminds me a bit of Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. It has a similar air of the fantastic, but not so extreme. The story told here is mostly credible.

In some ways the book comes across as a dire warning against fanaticism. It is at least a detailed portrayal of fanaticism that will repel most, I think. This book is full of people who are sure they are right.

This review of the book is quite good. It reveres Trotsky as being the true revolutionary. Perhaps.

Still: Why am I to believe, however, that Trotsky would have been less evil had he come to power? I grant he could not have been much worse.

The reviewers claim that the book was initially published in Mexico because of lingering sparks of Stalinism in Cuba. The review quotes Padura about gradual improvement in Cuba about being able to write such an anti Stalinist book. From the review: “The existence of the Revolution itself is being threatened by those who wish to push Cuba down the same capitalist road that has already been travelled by Russia and China. The pressures on the island are excruciating and are growing all the time.”.

Wow! A really intriguing interview with Hitchens and Service. It tries to answer several questions as well as I expect that we can today. There is no hint in the book about the attitude of the US government towards Trotsky. After watching the interview I can imagine that our government was confused.

At one point one of the ‘heros’ sits in a café in Paris between the wars and notices that most people around seem happy. He dismisses them as dumb—as if it were necessary to be happy for the right reason, which, of course, is the triumph of the revolution. This reminds me of the quote attributed to Clarence Darrow about puritans: “They have this abiding fear that somehow, somewhere, someone is happy.”.

I find several notes on the web about Trotsky. All of them assume that the reader is already fond of Trotsky. It is hard to believe that Trotsky deserved what Stalin did to him. That does not lead me to believe that Trotsky would have done a better job.

Padura seems to think that many of the western communist parties were rather directly controlled thru Moscow. That notion was controversial in the US. Perhaps it was so.

A recurring pattern of the book is several personalities in one body. This is not so much a ‘multiple personality disorder’ as a side effect of multiple personalities often required of a spy. Here different personalities have different names. A map is needed, but that is not Padura’s style.