Book Notes: Leonardo Padura’s Dust in the Wind

Padura is the most famous writer currently living in Cuba, and as they say, beggars cannot be choosers. Everybody who’s any good left the island a long time ago, and Padura is what’s left.

And it’s not that he’s bad. There is a story that he’s trying to tell, and it’s often quite good. But sweet Lord in heaven, is he ever so wordy. The novel could lose 400 pages and gain massively in focus.

The intrigue at the heart of the novel hinges on a group of very educated people, one of whom is a doctor of medicine, not knowing that condoms don’t give a 100% guarantee from pregnancy. They spend nearly three decades in inane dialogues that go like this:

“Who is Adela’s father?”
“I don’t know. Wasn’t me. I used a condom.”
“Who was it then?”
“No clue. I used a condom.”
“Did it break?”
“Does that ever happen? Do condoms break?”
“I don’t know. But who’s Adela’s father? Did you say you used a condom?”

The novel actually isn’t a critique of the condom industry. It’s about exile and all of the Cubans who left the country. By the end of the book, you begin to feel like you now know every detail of the life of every Cuban who has ever left. Or stayed.

Again, it’s not all bad. I enjoyed large chunks of it. But at the end of the novel there’s this horse who’s very old and tired and needs to be put out if its misery. I identified with the horse a lot because it did feel like the blasted novel would never end. The only thing that kept me going was knowing what a funny post I’d write about it.

4 thoughts on “Book Notes: Leonardo Padura’s Dust in the Wind

  1. A possibly interesting book:

    В прошлом веке жил в Австрии еврей Bruno Bettelheim. За это попал он в концлагерь. Сгинул бы там, но случилось маленькое чудо.
    On Hitler’s 50th birthday about 10% of the prisoners at Buchenwald were released.

    Избежав худшего, Bettelheim оказался в Штатах и начал там работать психологом. И мучал его профессиональный вопрос: Почему такому огромному количеству людей не удалось спастись от тоталитарного государства?

    Думал он двадцать лет. И написал книгу “The Informed Heart”. С подзаголовком “A study of the psychological consequences of living under extreme fear and terror”.

    Беттельгейма, конечно, подводит то, что в Штатах он специализировался по детям. В результате, слишком многое в объяснениях сводится на деградацию до детского поведения. И фрейдистский подход уже устарел. Но это не так важно. Книга, несомненно, должна быть в школьной программе.

    В главе 6. “The Fluctuation Price of Life” в разделе “Business as usual” раскрывается, пожалуй, самая главная мысль. Она не самая важная, если подходить с точки зрения теории, но она очень многое объясняет с точки зрения практики. Это то, что поколение выживших, должно было бы рассказать нам о тех, кто не смог предпринять действенных шагов к собственному спасению.
    Most of all it would have forced them to accept that going on with life as usual was not an absolute value, but can sometimes be the most destructive of all attitudes.



  2. For the English readers I want to quote this deep insight re the source of popularity of Ann Frank’s diary :

    // The universal success of the “Diary of Anne Frank” suggests how much the tendency to deny is still with us, while her story itself demonstrates how such denial can hasten our own destruction. It is an onerous task to take apart such a humane and moving story, arousing so much compassion for gentle Anne Frank. But I believe that its world-wide acclaim cannot be explained unless we recognize our wish to forget the gas cambers and to glorify attitudes of extreme privatization, of continuing to hold on to attitudes as usual even in a holocaust. Exactly because their going on with private life as usual brought destruction did it have to be glorified; in that way we could overlook the essential fact of how destructive it can be under extreme social circumstances.

    While the Franks were making their preparations for going passively into hiding, thousands of other Jews in Holland and elsewhere in Europe were trying to escape to the free world… Others who could not do so went underground… All the Franks wanted was to go on with life as nearly as possible in the usual fashion.

    Bruno Bettelheim, “The Informed Heart (A study of the psychological consequences of living under extreme fear and terror)”, pages 252-253, chapter “6. The Fluctuation Price of Life”, section “Business as usual”


    … if fear of the parents was eliminated, either by greater fear of the state, or support from the state against the parents, or both, then it was relatively easy to arouse and encourage the children’s resentment of parental authority. By manipulating this resentment, the state could establish a complete and weakening control over the whole family.

    … the few actual denunciations and their terrible consequences, made widely known, were enough to sow distrust. What was so destructive to all parents was having to dread the consequences of what they might do or say in front of their children.
    page 272, chapter “7. Men Are Not Ants”, sectiion “Control from below”


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