Hello lovelies! Today I have an exclusive extract from The Transparency of Time by Leonardo Padura as part of the Random Things blog tour but first a little about the book:
Title: The Transparency of Time by Leonardo Padura
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Date Published: 10th June 2021
Genre: Crime Fiction
Mario Conde is facing down his sixtieth birthday. What does he have to show for his decades on the planet? A failing body, a slower mind, and a decrepit country, in which both the ideals and failures of the Cuban Revolution are being swept away in favour of a new and newly cosmopolitan worship of money.
Rescue comes in the form of a new case: an old Marxist turned flamboyant practitioner of Santería appears on the scene to engage Conde to track down a stolen statue of the Virgen de Regla—a black Madonna. This sets Conde on a quest that spans twenty-first century Havana as well as the distant past, as he delves as far back as the Crusades in an attempt to uncover the true provenance of the statue.
Through vignettes from the life of a Catalan peasant named Antoni Barral, who appears throughout history in different guises—as a shepherd during the Spanish Civil War, as vassal to a feudal lord—we trace the Madonna to present-day Cuba. With Barral serving as Conde’s alter ego, unstuck in time, and Conde serving as the author’s, we are treated to a panorama of history, and reminded of the impossibility of ever remaining on its sidelines, no matter how obscure we may think our places in the action.
Equal parts The Name of the Rose and The Maltese Falcon, The Transparency of Time cements Leonardo Padura’s position as the preeminent literary crime writer of our time.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2014
The emphatic first light of dawn in the tropics filtered through the window, projecting dramatically against the wall where the calendar hung, with its perfect grid of twelve squares divided into four rows. The spaces had originally been colored in distinctive tones ranging from spring’s youthful green to winter’s deep gray, a scheme that only a very imaginative designer could associate with something as contrived as the four seasons on a Caribbean island. With the passing months, fly droppings had decorated the board’s motifs with erratic ellipses. Several stains and its ever-fading colors testified to the paper’s constant use and the blinding light that beat down on it every day. A variety of capricious shapes were doodled all over the thing—around the edges, even over some of the numbers, hinting at past reminders that were perhaps later forgotten and never acted upon. Signs of the passage of time and proof of a mind suffering sclerosis.
The year at the top of the calendar had received special attention and was covered with a variety of cryptic signs. Those numbers specifically tasked with representing the ninth day of October were surrounded by further perplexing sigils, which had been scratched in (more in rage than approval) with a pen just a bit lighter than the original black printer’s ink. And alongside several exclamation points, the digits that—as the doodler only now noticed—resonated with magical, numerological power, the power of perfect recurrence: 9- 9-9.
Ever since that slow, grim, slippery year had begun, Mario Conde maintained a tormented relationship with the dates at hand. Throughout his life and despite his historically good memory and general obsessiveness, he’d paid little attention to the effect of time’s speed and its implications for his own life and the lives of those around him. Regrettably and all too often, he forgot ages and birthdays, wedding anniversaries, the dates of trivial or major events—from the celebratory to those that evoked grief or commemorated simpler moments—that were or would be important to other people. But the alarming evidence persisted that, among those 365 days squared off by the grid of that cheap calendar, a day lay waiting to pounce that was as yet inconceivable, but threateningly definite and real. The proximity of the day Mario Conde would turn sixty years old caused in him a persistent shock exacerbated by the approach of those notable numbers: 9-9-9. It even sounded indecent (sixty . . . sixty . . . something that lets out air and explodes, sssixttttty . . . ), and this milestone presented itself as the incontestable confirmation of what his physical (creaky knees, waist, and shoulders; a fatty liver; an ever-lazier penis) and spiritual (dreams, projects, diminished or completely abandoned desires) selves had already been feeling for some time: the obscene arrival of old age . . .
Was he really an Old Man? In order to confirm it, as he stood before the blurry landscape of the calendar that hung from a pair of nails on his bedroom wall, Conde responded to this question with new ones: Wasn’t his grandfather Rufino an Old Man when, at the age of sixty, he took Conde around the city and surrounding areas to cockfighting rings and taught him the ins and outs of noble combat? Didn’t they start calling Hemingway “Old Man” a few years before his suicide at sixty-one? What about Trotsky? Wasn’t he, at sixty, known as the Old Man when Ramón Mercader split his head in two with a Stalinist and proletarian blow from an ice ax? For starters, Conde knew his limits and understood (owing to well-founded or spurious reasons) that he was a far cry from being his pragmatic grandfather, or Hemingway, or Trotsky, or any other famous old codger. As such, he felt that he had reason enough to avoid so much as aspiring to the category of Old Man, capital letters and all, even as he careened toward that painful number, round and decadent . . . No, he was, at best, going to become an old fart. The term was more apt in his case—in the category of possible decrepitude as classified with academic zeal by serious geriatric science and the empirical wisdom of an everyman’s street-smart philosophy.
About The Author:
Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He has just released THE MAN WHO LOVED DOGS, his masterpiece about the assassination of Trotsky. Padura has published a number of short-story collections and literary essays but international fame came with the Havana Quartet, all featuring Inspector Mario Conde.
Like many others of his generation, Padura had faced the question of leaving Cuba, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s, when living conditions deteriorated sharply as Russian aid evaporated. He chose to stay. And to write beautiful ironic novels in which Soviet-style socialism is condemned by implication through scenes of Havana life where even the police are savagely policed.
The crime novels feed on the noises and smells of Havana, on the ability of its inhabitants to keep joking, to make love and music, to drink rum, and to survive through petty crime such as running clandestine bars and restaurants.