I could barely sleep last night. A book left me tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling grid in my bedroom. “The Man Who Loved Dogs,” the novel by Leonardo Padura, shaken by his sincerity, by the corrosive acid he throws on the evasive Utopia they wanted to impose on us. No one can remain calm after reading of the horrors of a Soviet Union we were made to venerate as children. The intrigues, purges, assassinations, forced exiles, even though read in the third person, would rob anyone of their sleep. And if, on top of this, we watched our parents believe that the Kremlin was the guidebook for the world proletariat, and knew that the president of our country, until recently, kept a photo of Stalin in his own office, then the insomnia becomes more persistent.
Of all the books published on this Island, I dare say that none has been as devastating as this one to the pillars of the system. Perhaps that’s why they only distributed 300 copies at the Havana Book Fair, of which barely 100 reached the hands of the public. It’s hard, at this point, to censor a work that has seen the light of day from a foreign publisher and whose author is still living on his dusty road in Mantilla. Because of the visibility he’s achieved beyond the Island, and because it is nearly impossible to keep subtracting names from the national culture without its becoming sparsely populated, we readers were lucky enough to get to peek at his pages. Trotsky’s assassin is revealed in them as a man trapped by the obedience of the militant, one who believed everything his superiors told him. A story that touches us very closely and not just because our country served as a refuge for Ramón Mercader in the last years of his life.
Padura puts in the mouth of his narrator that his was the generation “of the gullible, of those who romanticized and accepted and justified everything with eyes focused on the future.” Our generation, however, was bitterly touched by the frustration of our parents, seeing how little they’d achieved, those who once went on literacy campaigns, who gave their best years, projecting for their children a society with opportunities for all. No one emerges unscathed by this, there is no social chemistry that holds up before such a stubborn reality. The long night tossing and turning gave me time to think, not only about the garbage swept under a doctrinaire carpet, but also about how many of these methods are still being applied to us and how deeply Stalinism was instilled in our lives.
There are books–I’m warning you–that open our eyes, such that we can never again sleep in peace.