In This Review

The Transparency of Time: A Novel
The Transparency of Time: A Novel
By Leonardo Padura. Translated by Anna Kushner
416 pp, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021

In this erudite crime thriller, Padura, Cuba’s leading man of letters, pilots his melancholic, irreverent detective, Mario Conde, toward his 60th birthday. The plot, revolving around a stolen wooden statue of the Black Virgin, of medieval origin, is a vehicle for the author’s trenchant commentaries on contemporary Cuba and his existential ruminations on the human condition. Situated in 2014, before U.S. President Donald Trump’s intensified economic sanctions and COVID-19’s disruption of tourism, the book describes a Cuba already suffering from poverty and postrevolutionary inequalities; readers visit the sumptuous private restaurants and homes of the elites (new and old), as well as peripheral shantytowns populated by darker-skinned migrants (popularly labeled “Palestinians”) from the eastern provinces. In a parallel narrative located during the murderous, chaotic medieval Crusades, Padura ponders whether ideologies and religions merely disguise the human drive for power and wealth; he also asks whether revolutionaries elevate or immiserate their populations—questions echoed by Cuba’s contemporary fate. Surrounded by his country’s material and moral decay, the mature Conde finds solace in an enduring love relationship and in his steadfast circle of lifelong drinking buddies.