Monday, December 18, 2006

Interview with Leonardo Padura

An interview with Cuban mistery writer Leonardo Padura.

After years of success across Europe, the detective novels of Cuban author Leonardo Padura Fuentes have finally started to appear in English.
This spring, two novels featuring his charismatic policeman Lieutenant Mario Conde are being published in Britain.
The first, Adios Hemingway (Canongate) has already been critically well received. The second, Havana Red (Bitter Lemon Press) has just been published.
Until Padura began writing detective novels in the early 1990s, the genre in revolutionary Cuba was a medium through which an attempt had been made at using it to inculcate the masses in the correct mode of behaviour in a socialist society.
Borrowing heavily from formulas adopted in the former socialist bloc of eastern Europe, the Cuban genre had some successes, but these were outstanding because they shone amid a mass of mediocrity.
All too often, anodyne policemen chased predictable CIA infiltrators and sympathisers in hackneyed plots that held little suspense.
Then, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the real world that sustained this fictional counterpart disappeared and the way was clear for a revitalisation of the genre.
In stepped Padura with his four novels Las cuatro estaciones (The Four Seasons), all set in 1989, the cataclysmic year in which the Berlin Wall came down.
Just as in 1930s US, when Dashiell Hammett transformed the detective story from the genteel drawing room mysteries that had been popular in the prosperous 1920s into the hard-boiled thrillers more befitting the gangster age, Padura has brought about a similar genre shift in Cuba.
Padura's Lieutentant Conde is a divorcee and a drinker with a heavy sense of irony who tracks down corrupt officials and home-grown crooks in a familiar Havana - of crumbling buildings, street girls and shortages.
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