Book covers



Price: £12.99 Pages: 556 ISBN: 9781908524782

Bitter Lemon Press


Donald Trump has accused the Washington Post of being negative about his administration.   The newspaper, though, can be positive.  One of its critics described Leonardo Padura as the greatest living writer in Cuba.   Padura cannot be criticised for lacking ambition.  His new novel consists of 530 bumper pages and wanders between generations, countries and events.  The previous novel of Padura to be published in the UK by Bitter Lemon Press was The Man Who Loved Dogs.  The book received acclaim from both critics and readers.  Because of his ambition and exceptional approach, Padura has devoted fans, and they will not be disappointed by Heretics.   History, mystery and social and political criticism are combined to epic effect. 

Walter Benjamin the famous critic said that ambitious art has celestial purpose; it pitches towards an aura.  Whatever the ambition behind his own books, Padura recognises this ambition when it exists in others.   Heretics not only features a couple of murders but a Maltese Falcon type search for a missing painting by Rembrandt.   The middle section of Heretics is called The Book Of Elias and describes the apprenticeship of a Jewish painter to Rembrandt.  This is a bold and surprising move.  It may not constitute a neat dovetail but the section is interesting and fascinating and it ensures that Heretics is unlike any other thriller.   That reason alone makes the latest book by Padura an essential read.

Mario Conde will be familiar to the readers of Padura.  The cerebral Cuban detective is now retired but he is as wayward as ever.  Conde likes to drink and think, and his discoveries lead him to wonder about the relationship between the sacred and heresy.  The heretics in the book title refer to not only the unfortunate Jewish refugees who were denied access to Cuba in the Second World War but also anyone who struggles against the sacred and ideological.  The final conclusions of the book are not profound.  Conde makes a simple but eloquent plea for decency and tolerance.  The plea is important but there is much in the book that is pessimistic about future prospects.  The intellectual journey is always interesting.  I liked the observation about bullying and its widespread and surprising manifestations.  I was also surprised to read that John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival had never married. 

Padura defines a heretic as someone who has an alternative belief.  Non-believers do not qualify.  But if decency and tolerance are ever to prevail we may need them more than anyone.  Beliefs tempt the curiosity of Conde but his sympathy for the final victim is complex.  It can be interpreted in different ways. Padura connects ideology about art and religion and recognises a common yearning for freedom and independence.  Conde has rebellion and disobedience in his nature.  Like his creator, he is angered by human corruption.  Conde has no difficulty connecting the struggle of heretics to the complex and difficult situation in Cuba.

Heretics is obliged to wander and carry the weight of history.  This makes sense because it is concerned with people who are affected by large-scale events and drama.   Most of us have lives that sidestep historical turbulence.  Lukewarm about both the sacred and heretical, we are comfortable witnesses.  Others are not so lucky.  Heretics insists that these are the lives and stories that need to be remembered.   The many fans of Padura will not be disappointed.

By Howard Jackson.