The Nobel Prize for cuban writer Leonardo Padura

Eva Feld

Not just anybody is entitled to submit a name to the Swedish Academy. A nomination for the Nobel Prize has to come from a formal institution, such as a university, a previous Nobel Prize winner or a highly recognized syndicate. Therefore my taking a stand for a particular writer may be an act of arrogance. After all who am I but an “unfamous” Venezuelan writer with only five books in my portfolio and a slow reader.

The reasons for which I have decided to proclaim Leonardo Padura not only as a candidate but as the winner of such an honor may scandalize many professors and critics who may think that by doing so I am only asking for spotlights over myself. After all there are many important candidates who are standing in line, some of them for over a decade. The list includes prominent American authors such as Thomas Pynchon or Philipe Roth among others who have been neglected, according to me, to favor many writers, presumably for extra-literary reasons.

Extra-literary reasons?  Yes! For what other reasons may have prevailed to overlook the brilliance in the use of the English language and the description of a society of both Pynchon and Roth displayed in Gravity’s Rainbow or American Pastoral?

Yes it is an individual selection but not an arbitrary one for what is Literature after all if not an essential manifestation of art as its best? It is indeed the art of weaving fiction and reality, prose and rhyme, nouns and adjectives, stories and feelings and ultimately treating the components of human nature as if they were pure chemical ingredients submitted to different conditions in search of possible and impossible reactions.
Developing drama, humor, candor and expertise is a writer’s goal for which he needs to submerge into history and the news as well as in his own experience and those of others. He needs to give life to characters and/or metaphors capable of illuminating the unknown.

These are some of the reasons for which I have chosen Leonardo Padura for this year’s Nobel Prize. He is a Cuban writer and journalist who not only lives in Havana but has never moved from the house where he was born sixty years ago. Furthermore, at least seven generations of the Padura family have lived in that same house. Leonardo claims that he knows everything and everyone in the hood. He also asserts that he needs every sound and every smell of his birthplace in order to be able to write.

He has become the mirror and the antennas of his fellow Cubans both inside the country and in exile because he has given them back not only the information they lack about themselves and their near history but also about the idiosyncrasy that would have presided them should the extremist voices been neutralized instead of enhanced over the years.

Padura has created a fictional detective and a series of his stories but above them, in the last ten years he has written two novels that are non-less than gigantic frescoes of the twentieth Century. The first one, Man Who Loved Dogs, already translated to fifteen languages, is a braid in which three characters who love dogs are brought together to enlighten the facts and emotions that lead a Catalan and communist militant to kill Trotsky in Mexico. It is by meeting an ordinary Cuban while they both walk their dogs on a beach, that the reader becomes familiar with all three dog lovers, Trotsky being the third one.

Through this vertebral spine, Padura is able to weave ideology, deception and expression, using not only the character’s personal stories and circumstances but actual artistic, political, economic and sensorial facts. When it was finally published in Cuba, his readers thanked him for what they had never before heard or read about. And that is the true nature of the word “novel” which derives from “novelty.”

It takes Padura about five years to write a mural-size novel. Two years ago he finished a second one titled Heretics. When asked about the title he answers that it is a term used to designate someone who, having been a strong believer, retracts in order to free himself. He is an advocate of freedom. He is against extremism, fanaticism, intemperance and that is probably why he is permanently being attacked by radical Cubans of both sides.

Through his newest novel he describes the Cubans in their diversity but his neuralgic research has to do with an exploration of how to attain and deal with free will: Either concerning the Jews in the Netherlands in the XVII Century or the personal choices of his contemporary characters.

Once again, Padura paints a fresco about the human nature. To accomplish that he even takes us to Rembrandt’s studio and brings us so close to him that we can smell his bad breath due to his rotten teeth. At the same time we can also smell the very cheap rum consumed by middle class Cubans or the fresh flesh and blood of disappointed youngsters in Havana who by cutting themselves express their desire of freedom.

Yes! Freedom is the cue word in Padura’s complex and beautifully written novels. And yes, he deserves the Nobel Prize both for literary reasons and political causes if it pleases the Academy.

Loveland OH, May 2015