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The Man Who Loved Dogs

Leonardo Padura

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All are shaped by the promise and deceit of history, have our identities enhanced or reduced by day-to-day living. Those with ambition to shape the future go further and sacrifice their identities completely. Ramon Mercader hardly survived what happened to him after he killed Trotsky. The man was reduced and changed. He thought he could become a hero but became notorious as a villain. In this outstanding novel, Padura insists that Mercader was both victim and responsible. Complex identity means we never can be certain about culpability. Ramon Mercader killed Trotsky and survived 20 years in a Mexican prison and a paranoid existence in the totalitarian Soviet Republic. His alternate disguises as separate identities misled others and himself.

The Man Who Loved Dogs makes explicit how the utopian ideal of Communism was destroyed by the corrupt and powerful. Not only were people lost but also dreams.

‘The world is at the bottom of a trap and the terrible thing is that we squandered the opportunity to save it.’

And so it goes. Not only has every Marxist revolution failed but even the modest gains of Social Democracy are now being overturned. This is the trap we face, and the novel argues that we do not know what to do and probably never did. Sacrificed dreams mean neither do we know who we are. Without anything left to believe in, all that remains is pretence and dogma.

The Man Who Loved Dogs is not a pleasant read for those on the political left. It relentlessly recalls the tragedy inflicted by the cynical and the blind. But Padura is hardly providing succour to self-serving neo-economists.

The world is at the bottom of a terrible trap.

Indeed he makes a plea, if only briefly, for another revolution but, next time, one that insists on more democracy than we have, not less.

One connection that is not made in a novel that brilliantly embraces the Russian Revolution, the Stalinist aftermath, the Spanish Civil War and the privations in Cuba is that between Trotsky and Jesse James. Both men were assassinated from behind, both were living secluded lives and both had political significance for the defeated in large societies that were determined to welcome and advance modernism. We remain curious about both doomed assassins.

The victims, though, are secure in posterity. The racist psychopath, Jesse James, had been media whitewashed into celebrity well before the coward Bob Ford made his dialectical materialistic decision. But before his death Trotsky was already desperate with no alternatives beyond Mexico.

As Stalin said, ‘A single death is a tragedy and million deaths a statistic.’ The assassination of Trotsky was not the greatest crime Stalin committed. But the destruction of individuals can symbolise universal loss and the wilful blindness of the powerful more effectively than a million anonymous victims. This is perhaps why Padura insists that the personal tragedy of his friend is connected to grand history elsewhere. Compassion for others is important above everything. It, and neither Marxist nor neo-conservative theory, is what needs to prevail.

 

The Man Who Loved Dogs has been adapted for the radio by BBC Radio 4. Thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for publishing excellent crime novels from outside the UK.

Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His next book, Nightmares Ahead, will be published by Red Rattle Books in Spring 2015. If you want to read more by Howard Jackson click http://bit.ly/1d4L1tz

Vampires And Zombies – Escape And Immunity

zombie-apocalypse

They have had practice but it is admirable how human beings manage inevitable death.  True, it makes us anxious.  But we handle well routine death that does not involve prolonged suffering or premature disease and affliction.  All those billions on the planet have to die.  God insists and, if you have faith, you believe it is part of his extremely complicated plan.  Some protest and drink themselves to death but the majority depart quietly.  After the property has been distributed, life continues as normal.

Widespread disease kills less than routine death.  So far the malevolent viruses or germs have always been defeated.  But life is not normal afterwards.  Africa will not be the same after Ebola, and Europe was changed by the Black Death.   London was rebuilt after the Great Fire but nobody thought it a good idea to have another one. Hollywood needed CGI to create the zombie apocalypse in World War Z.  Routine death is low budget domestic drama.   Plagues and wars produce panic, and crowds flee.  But faced with routine death, the same people are stoic.  The flu epidemic of 1918 killed over 50 million people but nobody remembers epic horror.  Those quiet deaths were absorbed by well-managed routines.

Ebola produces decay and metamorphosis capable of World War Z horror.  We want Africans to stop dying but we know that if the disease Ebola had a purpose it would want to do more than kill innocent Africans.  It would transform our decaying way of life that awaits metamorphosis.

Heroes of vampire and zombie movies stand and fight but they are careful to secure immunity.  They rely on garlic or machine guns, warrior camps on remote hills or sealed Victorian mansions.  The desire to escape is rarely pleasant.  Tourists, addicted to periodic vaccinations, rarely look as if they are having fun.  Nigel Farage wants to build barriers around Britain so we can escape a world where billions live on less than $2 a day.  He is popular because he insists immunity from the desperate poor is an entitlement.  Like vampires and zombies, the poor breed faster than the rest.  ‘We will be swamped,’ says a Tory.  The British Government has refused to support international rescue operations to save drowning Africans in the Mediterranean. ‘Saving their lives will only encourage them,’ said a Cameron lackey.  150,000 starving people were rescued last year. Next year, they will drown. White folks abandoned not only New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina but also the poor.  Europeans read about Ebola and know that people are dying prematurely in huge numbers.  Europeans are Ebola free but only because they were born on a different continent.  Half the world lives on less than $2 a day, 2.8 billion people.  Lucy Westenra had three wealthy suitors and imagined a future full of Victorian immunity. Nobody told her that Dracula could slide under the windows of undeserved Victorian mansions.  The best zombie and vampire films do more than relish carnage.  They offer a solution, something to help everyone.  If only.

Howard Jackson has written 3 books that have been published by Red Rattle Books.  His next book, Nightmares Ahead, will be published in spring 2015.

He has written 3 stories for Zombie Bites, which is launched this week in London.  If you want to read more about zombies and vampires click here.