The Havana-based Padura writes noir crime thrillers that have proved very popular in Cuba. His gritty novels usually explore the moral compromises required to survive in his communist homeland. But in this ambitious, at times gripping work of historical fiction, Padura re-creates the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky in Mexico. The novelist draws a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the outcast Bolshevik, hounded by Joseph Stalin. Padura’s Trotsky is arrogant and intransigent but also extraordinarily resilient and industrious in exile, self-critical and prescient, and emotionally devoted to his loving wife and children. In Padura’s version of this story, the macabre horrors of Stalinism, its reliance on fear and hatred, and its utter corruption of the utopian dream of socialism were embodied in the meticulous psychological conditioning of Ramón Mercader, the Spanish revolutionary selected by Stalin’s murderous machine to penetrate Trotsky’s fortified compound and drive an ice ax into the aging revolutionary’s brain. Padura laments the similar snuffing out of credulous dreams of Cuban revolutionaries but notes that the Soviet Union collapsed when the terror and lies began to subside. It is not clear whether the novelist foresees the same fate for Cuba.
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