Leonardo Padura talks about Mario Conde

In an on line article published on Januray 4, 2006, Padura talks about his main character, Mario Conde, as follows:

Mario Conde was born of necessity. I had to have an investigator, a protagonist for Past Perfect (Havana Blue), and this character would be, in the novel, my eyes, my voice, my way of seeing and understanding reality and many things about life. For this reason, he had to be something more than a police officer – and of course, he had to be a different kind of police agent than those in those politicized Cuban crime novels that I mentioned earlier. Thus, Mario Conde had to have a series of personal characteristics, but his sensitivity and intelligence had to shine above all else when it came to interpreting reality. It is for this reason that, even when I knew practically nothing about criminal investigation, he was a man who showed great sensitivity. For him, literature, music, relationships with friends, a vision of the Cuban present and past, were all realities that he participated in because of his sensitivity and intelligence. The result is a man who is a bit disenchanted, skeptical, who defends himself with irony, and who has great loyalties and great phobias. The bottom line was that for Cuban orthodoxy he was a very politically incorrect sort of guy, and for this reason the novel received no prize in a Cuban contest that I sent it to, and it had to be published in Mexico. In any case, the Conde of the first novel was like a dress rehearsal for a character that, starting with the second installment of the “Quartet,” became fully fleshed out and had his own psychology. Already in that installment, Lenten Winds (Havana Gold), is the original title – he is revealed in all his sadness, his pessimism, his painful feelings about life and his merciless examination of the reality in which he lives. Conde is thus totally politically incorrect, but the novel, nonetheless, won the national prize in Cuba and was published immediately. Thus I see Lenten Winds as Conde’s step toward disenchantment, in which he lives in the rest of the “Quartet” novels, and in the other two books which have followed it: Adios, Hemingway (published in English by Canongate) and Yesterday’s Fog (Havana Fever) which came out this year in Spain and which will begin to be translated next year. In these two later novels Conde is not even a police agent any more, since after the “Quartet” he decides to leave the force to feel more free, because he has become sick of his work as a criminal investigator and because his sensitivity has reached its limit and he has to look for some other meaning in his life. (Now he makes a living buying and selling old books, according to him because that way he is closer to literature but not too far from the street…).”

(Read the whole article at Politicalaffairs.net)

Havana Blue (Original title: Pasado Perfecto) – Leonardo Padura

Padura, L. Pasado perfecto (2000). Barcelona. Tusquets Editores. 1ª edición en colección Maxi: febrero de 2010. 240 p. ISBN: 978-84-8383-558-6.

Havana Blue is the first novel in the Mario Conde series. Its original title in Spanish Pasado Perfecto (Past perfect) hides an ironic reference to both the “perfect past” of Rafael Morin and the “perfect past” of Cuba, before the so call “special period in time of peace”, an extended period of economic crisis that began in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although the action takes place in 1989, the first Cuban edition was published in 1991. It is also interesting to note that past and present play the same roll during the action. Padura uses the third person to refer to actual facts while he uses the first person on Mario Conde’s flashbacks.

The action takes place during the first days of 1989. On January 1, Lieutenant Mario Conde of the Havana Police Department is woken by an insistent phone call. He has a terrible hangover after New Year’s Eve celebration. His boss is calling about an urgent case. Rafael Morin, a high rank official, chief of the Import and Export Company in the Ministry of Industry has disappeared. It turns out that Morin is an old school-days acquaintance of Conde, a brilliant student who married Tamara, the girl Conde was after. During the course of this investigation Conde has to face up with the girl of his dreams and the dreams of his youth.

As it is often the case with Padura’s books, the plot is of minor importance. It is just an excuse to provide a portrait of Havana and its people under a totalitarian regime that does not allow the most basic forms of freedom. Padura uses the elements of a police procedural to criticize the political and social structures of the society in which the action takes place. I have enjoyed very much this book, Padura is a very talented writer and I look forward to read the rest of his Mario Conde series.

Leonardo Padura was born in Havana in 1955. He obtained a degree in Spanish Language and Literature from the University of Havana, and has worked as a scriptwriter, journalist, and critic. He is the author of essays, collections of short stories, but is best known for his series of crime novels starring Detective Mario Conde. These have been translated into many languages, and have won prestigious literary awards such as the Café Gijón Prize in 1995, the Hammett Prize for best crime novel in 1997, 1998, and 2005, the Premio de las Islas, in 2000, in France, the Brigada 21 Prize to the best novel of the year, as well as several editions of the Cuban Critics Prize and the National Prize for Novel in 1993. The Mario Conde series, acclaimed by readers and critics alike, is thus far made up of six novels: Pasado perfecto (Havana Blue), Vientos de cuaresma (Havana Gold), Máscaras (Havana Red), Paisaje de otoño (Havana Black), Adiós, Hemingway (Adiós, Hemingway) and La neblina del ayer (Havana Fever).

The complete review Havana Blue by Leonardo Padura
Havana Blue by Leonardo Padura Bitter Lemon Press
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