Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday to Friday: Historical Fiction and Leonardo Padura Fuentes

So how was your week? Mine is finally done! It's still rainy and cold in Jersey, but at least I'm home cozy and warm at the moment. I had a long working-week, but it turned out to be good with one book-related event this last week and some really nice reads.

Last Friday night, as a last minute outing, my brothers invited me to go along with them to meet Leonardo Padura Fuentes, a favorite author, in an evening at the Instituto Cervantes New York at Amster Yard in New York City. Mr. Padura was hosting a chat where he was discussing history and fiction in his latest release, the literary historical fiction novel El Hombre Que Amaba a Los Perros -- you might have seen that book mentioned here before. I've also mentioned my favorite works by him to date, the Inspector Mario Conde series.

It was an informal chat where basically he explained the process used while researching the novel, although he did address the fictional part of the book briefly. However, most of the evening was taken up with questions and answers about Trotsky's fascinating character, as well as that of his assassin, Rafael Mercader.

The key points for me came when he focused on how to pull together all that historical research he gathered throughout five long years and put together a fictional novel.  His points:

  • Respect historical moments when writing the fictional aspect of the story. 
  • Construct fiction as logically as possible while combining it with history. 
  • Characterization is key, especially that of the fictional characters in the book. In El Hombre Que Amaba a Los Perros that would be Ivan, a seemingly insignificant secondary character, but the very important narrator of the story.
  • Take into consideration that in a historical fiction novel there is no mystery as the end is usually well known. 
  • The narrative, making it fast paced and constructing the plot into a novel instead of a historical piece, is key.

Mr. Padura was quite gracious and the question and answer session, where not only this book but his other works were discussed, lasted quite a long time, and he and his beautiful wife gave of their time afterward as well. I took the opportunity to speak to him personally and he signed my book. Meeting him was an unexpected pleasure. 

About the Author: Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He is a journalist and writer of novels and essays, as well as screenplays. His literary works include a number of short-story collections, literary essays and nine novels translated into over 15 different languages but international fame came with the Havana Quartet, all featuring Inspector Mario Conde.

The Inspector Mario Conde Series:
  • Pasado perfecto (1991). Havana Blue (2007)
  • Vientos de cuaresma (1994). Havana Gold (2008)
  • Mascaras (1997). Havana Red (2005)
  • Paisaje de otoño (1998). Havana Black (2006)
  • La Neblina de Ayer. Havana Fever (2009)
  • Adiós Hemingway (2005, novella); published with same title in English in 2006 - the first of his books to be translated into English.


  1. This sounds like such a relaxing way to meet an author. I love how he describes blending his research within his novel. Thanks for sharing your experience Hils. :)

  2. Leslie, I had such a great time. It was intimate, relaxing and quite educational. There were quite a few people there to meet him, but it turned out to be such a fun, cozy evening. The best news I heard was that he has a new Mario Conde book on the works, lol!

  3. Hils, I somehow missed this post. Sorry to be responding so late, but it sounds like it was a wonderful discussion.

    It's been a while since I've attended an author discussion but I know how satisfying they can be to us readers, especially if the author is a favourite.

    Based on your previous reviews of his works, I have place Mr. Padura on my to read list. Now just to find that ever elusive time to read! LOL.

    Thank you for sharing this.


  4. Hi Indi! Don't worry about missing the post.

    It was SUCH a pleasure to participate in the discussion, and then to meet and speak to the author personally. It was a rare and unexpected pleasure.

    I'm so glad you'll be reading (sooner or later, lol) some of his novels. As I said above, his best known works around the world are the Inspector Mario Conde series. However, I understand that his most respected novel by many is "La Novela de Mi Vida" (The Novel of My Life).

    I have NOT read it yet, although it has been out for quite a long time and it has been recommended to me multiple times. But I know this novel is related to the Cuban poet Jose Maria Heredia (1803-1839), his works and cuban history... and, although I'm familiar with Cuban history, I'm not familiar with Heredia's works. I figure one of this days (when I make the time), I'll read them first and THEN Mr. Padura's famous piece. LOL! Does that make sense?

    In the meantime, I think you might enjoy this historical fiction piece about Trotsky? Maybe? It has a political theme, and it has been said that "the main argument is that Stalin betrayed socialism and destroyed the hope of creating a utopian society in the 20th century." You would have to read it and tell me what you think. ;P It's controversial, I think, because of where the writer lives and where he comes from. :D

  5. Hils,

    La Novela de Mi Vida is the one I've got my eye on to read.

    And yes, there is a school of thought among historians and political scientists that believes that Stalin betrayed socialism and had Lenin not died in 1924 and continued to lead the new Soviet Union (with Trotsky) things would have been different.

    Certainly, Stalin's iron fist rule greatly and adversely impacted Trotsky's life as he was deported from the USSR by Stalin and then assassinated in Mexico on Stalin's orders.

    I am quite interested in this book. It's been a while since I've read anything (fiction or non-fiction) surrounding this particular time in history and the key figures of this period.

    Thanks again for the recommendation.

  6. Indi, you'd be interested in knowing that one of the interesting things the writer mentioned is that in Cuba, Trotsky's story is not known. He had to go out of the country to do his research. He wrote this book with Cubans in mind, as readers, to educate them. So you can imagine that the "school of thought" you mentioned above is a brand new discovery for them. As a matter of fact, since they aren't really aware of who Trotsky was, the fact that Mercader lived the last 10 years of his life in Cuba before his death is a meaningless and unknown fact there as well.

    I hope you enjoy both books!


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