Leonardo Padura: There Was More Fear In The Cuba Of The Nineties Than Now

The Princesa de Asturias de las Letras Prize in 2015, Leonardo Padura has just visited Tenerife. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Eloy Vera, Puerto de la Cruz (Tenerife) November 1st, 2019 — Three decades after he created detective Mario Conde, his most famous character, the author Leonardo Padura thinks that today’s Cuba “is different” from that of the 1990s, among other things, because the Cuba of the past “was much more afraid than today’s”.

Premio Princesa de Asturias de las Letras in 2015, this portraitist of Cuban society has just visited Tenerife to participate in Periplo, the International Festival of Literature for Travels and Adventures, organized by Puerto de la Cruz.

The novelist landed in Tenerife still with the good impression left by his latest novel La transparencia del tiempo (2018), in which he returns to the adventures of Mario Conde, an anti-hero with a critical and disenchanted look, whom Leonardo Padura describes as the grandson of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe and son of Manuel Vázquez Montalbán’s Carvalho.

Since 1988, when he premiered as a novelist with Fiebre de caballos, Cuba is an essential part and another protagonist of the narrative universe of Padura’s novels.

You’d have to wait two more years to meet detective Mario Conde through Pasado perfecto (translated as Havana Blue), the book that opened the Four Seasons series, which was later completed by the novels Vientos de cuaresma (Havana Gold), Máscaras (Havana Red) and Paisaje de otoño (Havana Black).

In an interview with Efe, Leonardo Padura recalls that the first novels in Conde’s series are set in 1989, a moment before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, “and from there to here there has been a lot of water under the bridge in Cuba and the world.”

He says that, sometimes, “people get the impression that Cuban society is static because it has not had great changes and the political structure and the economic system remain the same”, but “Cuban society has undergone an intense 30 years in which a whole series of positive and negative processes have occurred.”

“It’s my belief that Cuban society is a society that has freed itself much more from fears, repressions, and silences, and at the same time has been further burdened with a lack of urban planning, solidarity and respect for the rights of others,” says the author, who has also been a journalist and screenwriter.

The writer does not believe that “today’s Cuba is better or worse than 1989’s,” but sees it as “different. “And that’s in terms of the personal economy, in their way of life and in the way they see the world”, he explains, although “if I had to choose between better and worse I would say that the Cuba in 1989 was much more afraid than the one today”.

Cuba has breathed new life because for the last seven or eight years Cubans have been able to travel freely without having to ask for permission from an authority – which meant “a very significant step towards liberation in that society” – together with the fact that people can have small private businesses or that Internet access today has improved, although not completely; “elements that are becoming liberating for certain people and the ways of seeing and understanding life”.

Leonardo Padura cannot comprehend his life without that of his literary companion Mario Conde: “It has been an essential piece in my work as a writer and, therefore, in my life as a person,” he confesses.

They’ve spent 30 years together chronicling contemporary Cuban life, and a literary journey has led Padura, in his own words, “from the apprentice writer of Pasado perfecto to a writer to whom things have happened in his literary life that he never would have imagined.”

His latest novel, La Transparencia del Tiempo, is from 2018, but has not yet been published in Cuba. It is supposed to come out next year and “there’s never a better time to say that, at the moment, there is, once again, a very difficult economic situation in Cuba, and one of the areas that is going to be most affected is cultural production and, specifically, publishing,” he explains.

Padura outlines a hopeless publishing scene in Cuba, where large publishing houses have only three or four books in their publishing plans next year because they lack money and paper for printing.

“There is a shortage of materials in Cuba and, sometimes, the political will for my books to be published is not there; they take a long time to come out or come out and do not circulate well; part of the print run is lost and then it appears on the other side… but, fundamentally, the problem would be attributed to economic issues,” he insists.

Padura concludes the interview by alluding to how new technologies in general, among which are cultural distribution platforms such as series, “affect reading a great deal, not so much literature, which is still being done, but consumer spaces, which have been reduced by the tremendous impact of the digital revolution”.

Translated by Rafael Osorio <-Welcome to our new translator!  Thanks so much for your fabulous work here.

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