Tired, but happy. That’s how Leonardo Padura described himself on his return from Mexico in early December. There, at the Guadalajara Book Fair, he presented a commemorative edition prepared by Mexico’s Tusquets Publishers of Pasado perfecto (Havana Blue), that novel published precisely by a small publishing house in that city in 1991, a book in which the then young writer was making his debut in the detective genre with an also young character, Mario Conde. At that time Padura could not suspect that 25 years later he would be celebrating at the most important Spanish language book fair, with a special re-edition included, the birth of that atypical and melancholic, though deeply Cuban, detective who has been the most constant and loved companion in his already long and fruitful literary trip.
The fact is that, without proposing it, this celebration functioned like the perfect close for a year that, in the case of Padura’s literary career, has also been perfect. And I’m not exaggerating. Since the presentation in February of the Cuban edition of his most recent novel, Herejes (Heretics), to his expected appearance in Guadalajara last December, where he was one of the most published writers, Padura has had a very long waybill during 2015 that not only confirms his popularity among Cuban readers but also his growing relevance in the international literary panorama, which had its peak moment in the awarding in Oviedo, Spain, of the prestigious Princess of Asturias, formerly Prince of Asturias, Prize, in the category of Letters.
It is undoubtedly a good excuse to review in this space, in the new format that from now on “La esquina de Padura” (Padura’s Corner) will have, the principal events in which the writer participated in 2015, in which in addition he turned 60 in the height of his faculties and with the announcement of a new novel in the making.
When the year had just started, in February you carried out the expected and rather postponed presentation in Cuba of Herejes. There was almost no publicity, there were no copies of the novel in the bookstores and many Cuban readers never got to read that novel, in which Conde is one of the principal characters, though not its absolute protagonist. In your case, how is this contradiction resolved of being one of the Cuban writers most read and sought by the public, but whose books are so hard to find in the bookstores?
It is resolved in an alternative way or is simply not resolved. Above all I want to recall something I always say, here and everywhere: all my books, my novels, have been published in Cuba without changing a word in them with respect to the original edition that, since Máscaras (Havana Red) (1997), is published by my Spanish publishing house, Tusquets. But in a country where the editions are generally limited, there are few re-editions and neither are books imported…since the readers are the ones most affected by the little availability. I have had the luck that some of my novels, essays and journalism books have been re-edited, even with important print runs of up to 20,000 copies, like the reprinting in paper of less quality of La novela de mi vida (The Novel of My Life), but others have had small editions and have not been re-edited for years, despite the readers’ demand. And also take into account that many of these books have received the Critics Award or, I don’t know how, given that small amount of existing copies, have won the Puerta de Espejos Award, of the national network of libraries of Cuba, to the most read book of the year.
That is why many people approach me to ask for one of my books and, though I always bring from Spain, Mexico, Argentinacopies to give away…I can’t please them all. That situation creates for me certain anguish, since I feel that my natural readers, my best readers, frequently are unable to read my books. However, through those alternative means I mentioned before, people get copies of foreign editions, the copies printed in Cuba are passed from reader to reader and they also get a hold – and are even sold – of pirate copies in digital format.
In the specific case of Herejes, the story has been more turbulent. Its edition took more than half a year; in the end the printing was terrible, with continuous cases, narrow margins, badly cut pages; and the distribution, up to what I know, incomplete and mysterious: there were two presentations in early February, just before the Havana Book Fair (why not at the fair?), and a part of the edition was sold there (I was told that they were 4,000 copies) and the rest disappeared…. However, in October the book won one of the Critics Awards, though up to now no one has spoken of the re-edition that, because of that award, the book should have. And, I repeat, I’m very sorry for the Cuban readers, my readers.
On the other hand, the re-edition of your well-known book of interviews with baseball players, Elalma en el terreno (The Soul on the Field; Extramuros publishers, 2014, written in collaboration with RaúlArce), and the CD with several of your journalistic works, published by Cubaliteraria, were presented at the Havana Book Fair.
Indeed. Though they did not have much publicity, those two presentations were made. The Cubaliteraria CD is the first of a series of discs which we aim to edit through that means, since the paper publications are so complicated. The one we presented at the Fair, “Paduraperiodista” (Padura Journalist), contains five books: El alma en el terreno, El viajemás largo (The Longest Trip), Los rostros de la salsa (The Faces of Salsa), Entre dos siglos(Between Two Centuries) and La memoria y el olvido (Memory and Oblivion), that is to say, a tour through almost all my journalism, collected and published in the form of books. Meanwhile, the re-edition of El alma en el terreno, of which two editions were made and a total, I believe, of 10,000 copies, was an old wish, since that is a volume that was published in 1989 (Abril Publishers) and that already practically did not exist in Cuba, given that because it was about baseball it had an enormous amount of readers. I believe that re-edition, which did not receive much publicity, came to fill a void, because the original was from 1989 and there’s an entire generation (or two) of Cubans who did not see on the field those baseball players who took up so much sports and emotional space in 1970 and 1980, and through the book they could remember them, get to know them, as part of the long and beautiful history of baseball in Cuba.
On that same month of February you began a tour of several countries to present new editions of your books. Which were they?
Herejes was presented first in Portugal, published by the Porto Publishing House, and later in Greece, by my traditional publishers in that country, Kastaniotis. A presentation was made in Athens in the city’s largest bookstore and it was comforting to see that I have very faithful Greek readers, because despite the economic crisis the country has suffered, more than 200 persons came and I signed many books.
As part of that tour, already in March, you presented in Madrid the book Aquelloestabadeseandoocurrir (That Was Wanting to Occur), which is a selection or anthology of your best short stories. Can we expect its publication in Cuba? Have you abandoned the short story genre, or do you feel the need to return to it once in a while?
Since it is an anthology of my short stories, many of them are known in Cuba, since the book collects short stories from Segúnpasan los años (As the Years Go By;LetrasCubanas, 1989),La puerta de Alcaláy otrascacerías (The Door of Alcalá and Other Hunts;Unión Publishers, 2000, Critics Award), though it includes some short stories written afterwards, I believe three. But of course I would be delighted to have a Cuban edition, though none of the publishing houses have asked me for this.
Just in Spain, in one month two editions of the book were sold, and it has had a good tour in all the Spanish-speaking countries (Tusquets has branches in Mexico and Argentina, and distributes in Latin America through the channels of the Planeta group), with excellent reviews in all these places. That welcome of the original edition has led to the rights of publication being bought by several of my publishers in other languages. The first non-Spanish edition will be with the usual French publishing house, Métailié Editions, and it will present it in May 2016.
Regarding my relationship with short story writing…. Actually in the 1980s I was more prone to short stories, though I have never been too prolific. But in the last 25 years, the short story has resisted me: each time I come up with an idea, it already comes surrounded by a development that needs 200, 300, 500 pages. And the exercise of the novel absorbs my interests and my best time for writing. I only practice the short story very once in a while…. By the way, a short time ago I wrote one with Conde as the protagonist which is titled “Cuestión de familia” (A Family Matter). I believe almost no one has read it in Cuba, since it was published last summer in five consecutive editions of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
That tour ended in Lyon, France, where you were one of the guests of honour of the Quais du Polar Festival, that country’s most important meeting of the detective novel, and there you were given Le Grand Prix de la Ville de Lyon by the mayor. That is also a sign of the reception of your books in France.
In the Quais du Polar I received that honorary decoration of the city, Le Grand Prix de la Ville de Lyon, in a very massive and moving ceremony. But what’s most important, actually, was the amount of copies I signed during the days the festival lasted. Because in France a very agreeable phenomenon has occurred: critics review them and they interview me, the institutions and academia recognise me and award me (I have several French awards, from the Order of Knighthood of the Arts and Letters to the Roger Caillois), and, at the same time, readers look for my books. That makes gives me great satisfaction.
During the 18th edition of the French Film Festival, which is organised in May, the film Regreso a Itaca (Return to Ithaca), by filmmaker Laurent Cantet, together with whom you wrote the script and which was shot in Cuba with Cuban actors, was finally premiered in Cuba. The film, which is inspired on an episode of La novela de mi vida, was also premiered in Miami’s Coral Gables Art Cinema in November. You were invited to the premier on both occasions, which is why it would be interesting to know your impressions about these two presentations in apparently such distant and diverse scenarios.
Regreso a Itaca is a film with many interesting stories, dramatic, instructive (especially for me). The original idea was for a shorter version to form part of the shorts that make up Sietedías en La Habana (Seven Days in Havana, 2012), but the director Laurent Cantet, who had asked me to write the script for that 15-minute-long short, decided that the subject was too promising to resolve in such a short time. Finally a French producer was found who financed the making of a feature length and that was what was done in 19 days of shooting in December 2013.
The film was premiered in mid-2014 in several festivals. It was chosen as the best film of the independent section during the Days of Authors of the 71st edition of the Venice Film Festival and at the 23rd Biarritz Latin American Film Festival it won the Embrace Award, which is given to the best film. In addition, it was presented in Toronto, San Sebastián and at the Toulouse Latin American Film Festival, which I attended together with Cantet. During these international presentations I was invited to participate in the parallel showing of the Havana New Latin American Film Festival in December 2014, just when it was being commercially premiered in France and…what everyone knows occurred: the leadership of ICAIC decided to suspend its showing since it argued that they hadn’t seen the film. And that’s where a long and complicated debate on Regreso a Itaca began, with the complaint by many filmmakers and the entire Cuban artistic team, that that “cancelation” of the showing of the work was inadmissible. Finally, after long meetings, letters and public documents that circulated on the network, the Cuban cultural authorities (ICAIC) decided to accept that it be programmed and exhibited during the French Film Festival in Havana. And now I have to recognise and thank the attitude of my filmmaker colleagues during all this process.
Of the two showings it had in Havana, in the Charles Chaplin Theatre, I could only attend the first, but that evening was one of the most moving days of my life as a creator. From the start complicity was established between the public that filled the theatre and the film, whose story was familiar to them. I remember with special emotion the reaction of the public when Cantet called me on stage together with him. I believe it was an applause of recognition and, above all, of solidarity of a public that saw the film in a dramatic silence and that, when it ended, gave it a great ovation.
The exhibition in Miami last November was very different but, in essence, the same. The Coral Gables art cinema has some 150 seats, but many people interested in seeing the film were unable to attend the first two presentations, since all the tickets were sold out several days before. The organisation of the exhibition was by Nat Chediack, who has a long experience in cinema activities in Miami (he was one of the creators and for years the soul of that city’s film festival)…. Showing Regreso a Itaca in Miami, as a said so that night, was a way of completing the vital cycle of the work, since it also belonged (belongs) to the Cuban community of that city in southern Florida and…the reaction of the public was almost identical to the one in Havana: complicity, solidarity, enthusiasm, understanding and even a bit of catharsis, everything in an atmosphere of absolute respect. It was a wonderful experience that director Laurent Cantet was not able to fully enjoy since a few hours before that premier the November 13 terrorist attacks occurred in Paris and he was moved, hurt by what had happened in his country.
Let’s return to November, since during that month you also participated in Italy’s Perugia Spanish Language Literature Festival and you presented in Rome and in the Turin Book Fair the Italian edition of Herejes, with a new publishing house, Bompiani. Why that change of publishing house when you usually work for years with the same label?
The Perugia Festival has become a reference for the publicising of Hispanic literature. This year some 20 writers from 10, 12 countries were present, and authors like Villa Matas, AlmudenaGrandes, Jorge Volpi…and Paco Ignacio Taibo II and myself, who are now something like honorary presidents of the festival, attended. Beginning with Perugia and then continuing to Rome, Milan and Turin, we made the presentation of Herejes, published by Bompiani, since my previous publishers, Marco Tropea, was taken over by the crisis that has affected so many medium-size and small publishing houses worldwide, especially in Italy. That’s the only reason a changed publishing houses. Bompiani aims to recover my entire catalogue in Italian, which is why two of the Conde novels have come out and the rest of the books will be periodically incorporated.
But in May you also visited Israel for the first time and participated in a colloquium on your work which took place in the Jerusalem Hebrew University. Could you tell us about that experience in such an exotic place for Cubans?
I can summarise the experience of being in Jerusalem in a few words: moving, revulsive, unforgettable…. Seeing with your own eyes so many places that belong to the essence of western and Judeo-Christian education is a very enriching possibility, but at the same time deeply moving: seeing Jerusalem and its walls from the Mount of Olives, from where the Roman legionaries took Jesus to crucify him; entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and seeing the sites where it seems the cross and the cave where Christ was supposedly buried are located; touring the Way of the Cross and the city’s Arab markets; touching the Wall of the Temple of Herod and looking into the Mosque of the Temple’s esplanade are images I will never forget…. Like I also won’t forget walking through Bethlehem, seeing Mount Tabor, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee…and having the possibility of going into the waters of the Jordan River, the same one in which John baptised Jesus 2,000 years ago…all that creates vertigo, even in an agnostic or atheist (I have my doubts about my exact filiation) and enriches in an insurmountable way the visual memory of historic and cultural knowledge.
The painful part of that visit was to understand that the political situation of the Israelis and the Palestinians will not have a solution in many years or perhaps never. Because the use of religion and the divine mandates as pretext (or direct cause) of such a complex human and national situation is the worst way of assuming it, since the decisions and the pressures, sooner or later, fall into the hands of the fundamentalists, and with people and groups like these there no possibility for dialogue.
The most comforting part was attending the colloquium about my work in which several experts on Hispanic literature from the Hebrew University read papers about my work as a novelist. One of them was very interesting, since it was the history-fiction relationship in Herejes, written by historian Joseph Kaplan, a great authority in the study of the Sephardi in the Amsterdam of the 17th century. At the end of his reading we had a very animated debate, in which each one defended his flags: he that of the historian, I that of the writer – which is a flag of freedom and heresy.
On June 10 it was announced that you had received what, until now, is the most important recognition of your entire career, the 2015 Princess of Asturias Prize for Letters, and which comes precisely 20 years after having received the Café Gijón Prize for your novel Havana Red, which would be so important for the subsequent development of your career. How much do you feel you have changed or matured as a writer in all that time?
Exactly how much I don’t know. But what I’m sure of is that I have changed a great deal, which pleases me, since on the contrary it would have been fatal for me.
The Café Gijón Prize, which I won in 1995 (though it was announced and it was given to me in 1996), was the first important international recognition I was receiving as a novelist. But it was also much more, because thanks to it I achieved what a writer most needs: a prestigious publishing house, capable of being committed to your work…. What fulfilled all my dreams is that that house was Tusquets, a worldwide label of reference of the language because of the quality of its catalogue and because of its care for its editions and its authors.
Twenty years later, and of course due to all that work…well, the undreamed of occurred and which has surpassed any of my expectations. Not only am I the first Cuban writer in winning the Princess of Asturias Prize for Letters, but also the first Latin American to win it in 15 years since it was awarded to Augusto Monterroso in 2000. It is also a prize that has among its winners Juan Rulfo, Günter Grass, Vargas Llosa, Philip Roth, Amos Oz, Carlos Fuentes or my “friend” Paul Auster…my God, those are strong words!… It is as if I also would have jumped over the bar placed at 2.45 metres, like Javier Sotomayor, the only other Cuban who has won that recognition.
But, how much have I changed? Well, all that my artistic challenges and my ambition and literary ability have allowed me. Starting in 1995, with my novels from the series Las cuatroestaciones (The Four Seasons), I could have made a place for myself in the editorial world of the language. But I decided to jump over them and decided to write La novela de mi vida, with a more ambitious, more challenging language, structure, ideoaesthetic proposals. I believe that “ambition” partly explains my literary evolution, since I later decided to write a detective novel that would violate all the genre’s rules, and there’s La neblina del ayer (Havana Fever; 2005), a novel about losses, nostalgia and a new attempt to understand the changes of Cuban life in recent years. Then El hombre queamaba a los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs; 2009) was a novel that took me five years of research and reading, in which a dared to enter a universe of an unfathomable historical, philosophical, existential and ideological complexity, since I was trying to examine the destiny of the great utopia of the 20th century: the society of the equals…. Until now this has been my most commented novel and the one that made me reach a broader public. However, as a writer I decided to make another turn to write Herejes, a book centred on an eternal human drama: man’s struggle to reach and practice his individual freedom, even in those societies where it is freer (or at least supposedly). As you can see, the challenges are what encourage me. And I will continue investigating through literature that human condition and the contradictions, concretions, frustrations, evolutions of that time given us to live, here, in Cuba.
During that same month of June you were in Brazil, the so-called South American giant, where you have become a popular writer, though you are also received and spoken about your books by personalities like Dilma Rousseff and Lula da Silva…among others. How has this phenomenon occurred?
During the month of June I attended three consecutive festivals in Brazil: the Canoas Book Fair, in Rio Grande do Sul; the Literary Pauliceia, in Sao Paulo; and the Paraty Festival, considered the most important and most covered by the media of those held in that country and where I was invited as one of the two protagonist figures of that literary meeting in one of the most beautiful and extraordinary cities of the world.
And if I was invited to so many festivals it was due to the literary repercussion and marketing event that my novel The Man Who Loved Dogs has had in that country. I had previously published several books in Brazil, but nothing had happened with them. I believe that novel moved many left-wing Brazilians, Trotskyites or not, including the ex-presidentsHenríquez Cardoso (whom I met here in Havana) and Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. As well as President Dilma Rousseff, who invited me to lunch in La Alborada Palace, the presidential house in Brasilia…. In my first meeting with Lula he told me something very funny but revealing: that he almost became a Trotskyite while reading the novel…even though it is not a defence of Trotskyism, perhaps an anti-Stalinist denunciation. The second meeting was when I was presenting Herejes in Sao Paulo and at the Pernambuco Fair in Recife.
Herejes was one of the books with which the Boitempo publishing house celebrated its 20 years of existence. The book continues being one of the most sold three years after its publication, and journalists literally still pester me. In Paraty, on the day of my presentation, the amphitheatre was packed and I spent two hours signing copies.
At the end of the visit, already in Rio de Janeiro, I had the pleasant occasion to have supper one night with Chico Buarque, his sister Ana, my friendFreiBetto and my editor IvanaJinkins…and I asked Chico a lot about his music and he, who also writes novels, asked me a lot about my books. Those are satisfactions this work, so filled with tension and solitude that the writing of novels is, can give you.
The film and TV adaptation of your four first novels with Mario Conde as the protagonist started being filmed in Havana, a possibility that was about to be concretised on many occasions and that only now is becoming a reality, with the participation of the Spanish Tornasol producer, the direction of FélixViscarret and with actor Jorge Perugorría playing the part of Mario Conde. What can be expected of that adaptation of your work?
Above all, I expect the adaptation functions like a good audio-visual product, be it in cinema or on television.
The projects to make a film with one of the novels of the series Las cuatroestaciones (Havana Blue, Havana Gold, Havana Red and Havana Black) started being tried out since 2000. Since then I have spoken, even worked, with producers and directors from Spain, France, Italy, Denmark, United States, but with nothing being able to be concretised. Three years ago an agreement was reached with the German Nadcom producer and the Spanish Tornasol Films, which decided to male four TV-movies, as they are called now, lasting an hour and a half, and to make one of those films in a bit larger format and exhibit it in cinemas, and for this the version of Havana Gold was chosen.
The filming was very intense and in five months the four stories were shot in Havana and Tenerife, directed by FélixViscarret, with a mainly Cuban cast, headed by Jorge Perugorría in the role of Conde, a character with which Pichi was very connected and which he has played in a way that seems very familiar, very Conde.
That series should be premiered in 2016 and I have great expectations to see it, since the passage from literature to cinema is usually very dangerous and difficult, though I have confidence in Viscarret’s talent to achieve it the best possible way…. But when the journalists or readers ask me if with those films they will be able to see the novels in the cinema, I tell them no, at least I hope not: that would be a disaster. I hope they can see some good films based on the novels, but above all that, films.
The U.S. Starztelevision network announced in August that it would also take to television an adaptation of Las cuatroestaciones, this time played by Antonio Banderas. What is your involvement in this other series and what new information can you give about that subject?
Actually I know very little about the workings of this project, since if in the “Spanish” series I was linked to the structure of the scripts, which implied almost two years of work, in this one I will be like a sort of critical reader of the scripts to try to avoid distortions of the reality or the novels’ character.
This series is planned in a completely different way from the “Spanish” one, since though it is expected to be shot in Cuba, the cast will be international, with Antonio Banderas at the head of the cast and a different format. Up to what I know, several seasons will be made (if the first one works, of course) and in each one of them one or two Conde novels will be taken as the basis of the argument, very mixed and diluted in a greater argument, since each season would have some 10 chapters.
Right now that project is in the stage of writing the first scripts. If everything goes well and all the necessary permits are obtained in Cuba and the United States, the shooting would start at some time in 2016.
I hope that even when at times it strays from the novels it will also be a good series, capable of interpreting and above all respecting the spirit of the novels. In any case, it is a luxury for Conde to now appear, after so many years of waiting, on the screen played by Jorge Perugorría and by Antonio Banderas.
In September you were conferred the Foundation of the City of Matanzas honorary prize, which you received in October, two days after your 60th birthday. Do you have some special rapport with that city, despite your deep Havana roots?
Well, in Matanzas they celebrated my birthday with a cake and soft drinks, commeilfaut…. With Matanzas and its role in Cuban culture I have the same rapport of gratitude that all Cubans should have, since it is one of the sources of national identity. But, in addition, I have a sentimental soft spot for Matanzas, so much so that I have said that, if I hadn’t been born in Havana I would have liked to be born in Matanzas…. But remember that one of my novels, La novela de mi vida, is very Matanzan, because of the period in which Heredia lived in that city, where he hopelessly fell in love with Lola Junco and attended the gatherings of Domingo del Monte, and all these stories are in that novel. Moreover, I have good friends there and, very nearby, the beach of my dreams – and of the dreams of almost all Cubans -, Varadero.
And lastly in October the official awarding of the 2015 Princess of Asturias Prize for Letters took place in Oviedo, Asturias. Beyond the nervousness and the protocol, how was that week in which you participated in several events related to that celebration and for you, what was the most moving moment?
The awards ceremony is preceded by other activities organised for each one of the year’s prize winners, and all of Asturias is devoted to those events. It is a nice experience of relating with the people. In my case there was an especially gratifying moment, which was a meeting with reading clubs from all of Spain held in the amphitheatre that Calatrava designed for Oviedo. Some 1,200 persons were present, all of them readers of my books, and for me that was the most moving point: seeing so many common people who travelled to Oviedo to attend that meeting. Even a club of blind readers attended, the Retina Madrid, persons who, with the way they assume that adversity, give you the desire to live.
Afterwards there were other activities, like the ceremony prior to the awarding of the Prize, in which King Philip VI, on behalf of Princess Leonor (since she is still a child, the King, who was previously the Prince of Asturias, is still the person who heads the official ceremonies), places on each winner the prize’s insignia…. That day I wore a tie for the first time in my life…. And the big moment is the ceremony in Oviedo’s Campoamor Theatre, where the prize winners are presented and some of them have to read a speech.Mine was about gratitude, belonging, and Cubanness. Since that is a ceremony with a lot of protocol and press, certain rules are usually followed, even in the clothes you can wear, but I asked the organisers that I be allowed to break the formality of the suit and tie and be able attend wearing a Cuban guayabera made in Cuba by a local artist, Emiliano Nelson…and in one of the pockets I took a baseball, because I believe that baseball represents or symbolises Cuba and the Cubans, and it represents me and what my life has been, in my barrio, with my friends.
In November you travelled to Argentina as a jury member of the Clarín Prize. Before that you had been in Brazil again, now to present Herejes. Do you feel that at last you have won a public in that part of the world? What is the current perception of your novels in Latin America?
In Argentina, ever since the publication of The Man Who Loved Dogs, something similar has happened to what occurred in Brazil: I have found many new readers who, after reading that novel, have gone out to find my previous and following ones. The same has happened in Uruguay, Chile, Colombia, etc. In Buenos Aires I did a public presentation in the theatre of the Malba Museum, and it was a full house…. What’s most interesting, however, was the invitation I got to participate in the TV programme hosted by the very MirtaLegrand, the space with the most audience on Argentine television, and the following day, no matter where I went in Buenos Aires, how the people would say to me: “Ah, you’re the Cuban writer”…it was something incredible.
You attended for the first time the Miami Book Fair, held from November 15 to 22. What did you do there and how was your rapport with the reading public of that city?
At the Miami Book Fair I participated in two activities: a collective panel on the detective genre and a public chat-interview that, according to the organisers, was the most attended of the programme of the Spanish-speaking authors invited to the Fair. In general it was an agreeable experience that completed what had occurred with the presentation of Regreso a Itaca a few days before, since the connection with the public was very respectful and close. I can say, without fear of being wrong, that I have many readers in Miami, the majority Cubans, of course, people who followed me in Cuba, but also persons who have lived there many years and have become identified with my literature.
Guadalajara is undoubtedly one of the most important fairs held in the world and this year you celebrated there the 25 years of Havana Blue and the birth of Mario Conde. Why in Guadalajara? For how long do you think Mario Conde con continue accompanying you? You’re not afraid that that character can run out with time; that it reiterates itself and that one day it stops interesting and surprising readers?
Conde was born in Havana, but, as I have already said, he precisely saw the light in Guadalajara, when the first edition of Havana Blue was published there. That is, I did a sort of trip to the seed with Conde…. Throughout these 25 years this character has been a source of great satisfaction to me and a magnificent means to express my thinking and interpret my reality. That’s why I have conserved him and will conserve him for an indefinite time. I believe that if Conde runs out as a character it is because I have run out as a writer. But, as I have already commented, Conde returns in the novel that I am trying to write and which has been difficult to make progress on it due to all those promotional commitments and because of the work on the scripts of the firm series. But in a year or a bit more I hope to have finished that new novel and I am confident that Conde will maintain his abilities to create empathy with the Cuban and foreign readers.
And why don’t you give us a preview of that novel?
I can’t advance much because my process of creating a novel greatly becomes a reality in the act of writing. Right now I don’t know what the paths will be through which the book will definitively move, but there is something that has been decided: what takes Conde out of his existential paralysis and makes him investigate is the disappearance of a presumed statue of Our Lady of Regla that has been stolen from one of his old comrades. And that search connects Conde to the mystic world of an old tradition, and at the same time makes him come into contact with the crudest Cuban reality, a type of movement between reality and history that I like to do in my novels, since it gives it another transcendence and universality to the stories and the conflicts.
Two books about your work have been presented this year in Cuba. One was written by José Antonio Michelena and the other is a collection of texts with the title of Los rostros de Padura (The Faces of Padura)….
José Antonio Michelena’s collection of essays (A)Cercando a Leonardo Padurawas published by Capiro publishing house. This book was released in Havana and I later attended a presentation, very moving, in Santa Clara, where a sort of recognition was prepared for having won the Princess of Asturias. The other, Los rostros de Padura, is a compilation of works on my different activities (literature, cinema, journalism) prepared by writer AgustínGarcía, with texts from some 20 authors. That book was born as a project in one of the six-monthly Colloquiums organised by Cuban detective novel writers and its publication was self-financed. In late October it was presented in Havana, after a long time waiting for it to be “thawed,” since its circulation was affected by, according to what I heard, certain bureaucratic and organisational problems. But it was launched and, according to what I know, it has been sold in certain spaces in Havana. Now a version of the book has come out in Argentina and a Spanish edition will soon come out. I believe it is nice book, for which a thank Agustín, as well as all those who collaborated in its materialisation, with texts or editorial work.
The IPS News Agency and, in recent times, “La esquina de Padura”, has been a space that has allowed you to do in Cuba a type of journalism that is more personal and committed with our social reality. Books of chronicles like Entre siglos (Between Centuries) and La memoria y el olvido have come out of that collaboration. Are you planning to continue with that collaboration? Because changes are being prepared in that space’sformat….
Twenty years ago, when I left the head of the writing staff of La Gaceta de Cuba, I started my collaboration with IPS and I hope to continue with it. But I have been imposed the need for a change of style or of format to maintain that collaboration. I won’t stop writing my chronicles, but it just won’t be with the same periodicity, since on occasions to do journalism I have to sacrifice a time I need to devote to novel writing. Moreover, I have had the need for years, according to the new times and tendencies, to create a blog or something like that, which I have resisted. But when thinking it over with some persons, we have decided that “La esquina de Padura” can function like a journalistic space and, at the same time, more personal, since it’s not for nothing that it’s my corner, no? This interview is precisely a sample of the change of style that from now on the “Corner” will have. The idea is that, without abandoning the established collaborations of Roberto Méndez and José Antonio Michelena, there be more space to include news and more personal commentaries about my work that, on many occasions, does not have sufficient (or any) publicity in Cuba and which readers don’t know about. That’s why I ask that this interview not be read as an act of self-glorification in which you and I have conspired. If you have helped me organise a summary of my more visible work during 2015 it is so that it remains as a testimony and, above all, a source of information for my readers in and outside of Cuba, and in addition that it can serve as reference about the trajectory of my books and my work in general.
In an interview in which we already have talked nineteen to the dozen about cinema and literature, I believe that the only thing we didn’t bring up was the third of your great passions, baseball. Is it true that you train every day in case Javier Méndez calls you to get the Industriales team off the hook?
I don’t want to talk about baseball! I get very agitated! The problem is that I am one of those who believes that baseball is a bit the soul of this countryand I see how its practice has degraded and how it is marginalised in the press, with the disastrous result that its qualitative level has been impoverished and that today’s young people dream of being soccer players instead of ballplayers. That is not fair, not logical! That on TV 10, 15 first level soccer games are broadcast every week and that quality baseball is barely seen has created an atmosphere that is already damaging baseball in Cuba, and culturally that is very dangerous…. And yes, at the pace we are going I will have to ask Javier for the ball to close some game. I believe I can still do something for the Industriales….
And to conclude, what’s new for 2016? Will you present some new book….? Will the Spanish series be premiered with the character of Conde? Will you have a work plan this year as busy as in 2015 or do you think it’s already time to take things easy?
I want to concentrate in the writing of the novel with Conde about which I spoke to you before, though I have to carry out many commitments outside the island. For example, La novela de mi vida was finally published in German and my publishers require that I be with them to promote the book. In France I will be the guest of honour of the Saint-Maló Festival, and all of Conde will be re-edited with a new format. I have to go the World Congress of the Spanish Language in Puerto Rico. I hope to go to the Madrid Book Fair to present the printed edition of Regreso a Itaca. I am one of the jury members of a literary prize in Colombia…. But I am going to write. If during more difficult times, if in 1991, 1992 and 1993, without food and without electricity, traveling on my bike through Havana, I wrote a lot, how can I not do so now? There will be time to take things easy. I am obsessive and compulsive…. And now it is necessary to continue working and, as I have always said, I am surely not the most talented writer of my generation, but I am convinced that I am the one who works the most. And I hope to continue doing so. (2016)
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