Orlando Oliveros Acosta (Centro Gabo) interviews Cuban writer Leonardo Padura.
Leonardo Padura (Havana, 1955) does not believe that books can make a revolution because he thinks that this is a task that depends only on the readers. Novels are not going to change the world, but the world is going to be changed by the people who are transformed when they read novels. It is something similar to what his “teacher” Paul Auster said in an interview for Céline Curiol in August 2006: “Writing can be dangerous for the reader if there is something [in the reading] powerful enough to change his view of the world.”
On this, I wonder if Leonardo Padura will ever think about the destinies he has altered with the twelve novels that bear his name. If he, on melancholic nights in front of the Caribbean Sea, has wished to know the true scope of the Gospel by Mario Conde.
Padura appears on the stairs of the Cartagena Convention Center at 8:00pmt. He wears a short-sleeved white guayabera and sports the same gray beard that Ernest Hemingway had during his years in Cuba. In his left hand, he holds a glass of hot coffee, and in his right, a pen with which he has just signed ninety-four copies of his most recent book, Los rostros de la salsa. Since he was awarded the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature in 2015, all his talks usually end this way: a flurry of autographs and cramping fingers worthy of a rock star. In the morning, when Padura was full of energy, we had arranged a brief interview. Now, after having written dozens of dedications to unknown people, Padura wants to leave. He sighs when he sees me approach. But he’s a man of his word and sits with me at a table in the hall. “I don’t have much time,” he says.
In a recent talk you said that García Márquez was not a Colombian writer but a writer from the Caribbean. What exactly did you mean by this statement?
I mean that sometimes we have a very nationalistic and reductive view of the work of writers and artists in general. I believe that García Márquez’s work is as deeply Colombian as it is Caribbean and Latin American. Gabo is a heritage that belongs to all of Latin America, not just to a territory or a country whose borders in many cases may be artificial. There are regions that are essential to Gabo that two or more nations share. La Guajira is as Venezuelan as it is Colombian.
The example of the blurring border …
I think that when we draw borders we decrease the possibilities of multiplying our cultural penetration.
Did you ever meet García Márquez in Havana?
I met him a few times, although we did not have a relationship of intimate friendship. Once, we had dinner together and greeted each other but the truth is that we were not very close. On the other hand, I really got to know his work. In this sense, I came to García Márquez like almost everyone else: by reading him. One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book that my entire generation read. It was one of those indispensable novels for any reader. Later, I made sure to read all of his narrative work and a part of his journalistic works.
Let’s talk about music and literature, about your latest book of interviews, Los rostros de la salsa. In 1987, Panamanian singer-songwriter Rubén Blades released Agua de luna, an album with songs inspired by seven short stories by García Márquez. Do you think salsa and literature have strong links, or was that an isolated experiment by Blades?
I think that, in this case, Agua de luna was an isolated experiment by Rubén, which arose from the great empathy he had with García Márquez. In any case, salsa has an indisputable literary component and Rubén has known how to exploit it like none other. In that project you mention, it had a lot to do with Rubén and Gabo sharing their points of view on the social reality of the Latin American continent. They both had a similar outlook on life.
Do you feel that your work has been influenced by music?
Yes, but not that much, I don’t think… Oftentimes, writers say that their work has a musical structure—that of a cantata, for example, as Alejo Carpentier said regarding El acoso—and that seems false to me. A novel, a short story, or an account has a literary structure, while a symphony, cantata, or opera have very specific dramaturgical and musical structures. The influence of music falls on the sound environment, the cultural environment, and the sentimental education of the artist, but it does not do so directly on literary creation. [. . .]
You come from a country where the word “revolution” has had all kinds of meanings. What can be said about this concept when it is combined with literature? Can books start a revolution?
I don’t think any book creates a revolution. However, the books support the ideology of some revolutions. The Bible caused a religious revolution in the world and also Marx’s Capital, which was the foundation of certain utopian revolutions many years later. The book itself does not make the revolution because the revolution is made by men, especially young people. [. . .]
[Image above: Illustraation/design by Julio Villadiego / Fundación Gabo.]
Translated by Ivette Romero. For full interview (in Spanish), see https://centrogabo.org/gabo/contemos-gabo/leonardo-padura-los-hombres-que-leen-son-mejores-que-los-que-no-leen