Full disclosure, I have been as deathly ill this past week as I have not been since I had the flu in middle school, and reading something as dense and uninteresting as Leonardo Padura’s The Man Who Loved Dogs was not what the doctor ordered. To be as fair as possible, I don’t think I would have liked this book much anyway if I was completely healthy while reading it. It doesn’t handle its historical points very well and its core fictional story is woefully unfocused and something I have seen countless times before. Being sick made a lot of these bad qualities more apparent, and I struggled through all 572 pages of it with little enthusiasm, hoping whatever I was to read next was better than what I was reading now. That isn’t a very big hill to climb. The three stories that make up this overstuffed novel have to do with a fictional writer, toiling away at a crappy job after a dissenting story cost him his reputation, the life of Leon Trotsky in exile and the journey of Ramon Mercader, his eventual killer, from solider to ideological tool. The writer eventually befriends a man who turns out to be the assassin and the eponymous man who loved dogs, which ties all the stories together in a very uninviting way. If I can say one thing positive about this book, it is that it does succeed at trying to present the idea of how dictatorships take away people’s sense of free will, as evidenced by the powerlessness of the three central characters in deciding their fates. But I have seen that done before so many times, and much better, that I was left with, by the end, a dry, thick history lesson with very little narrative drive. Maybe the illness got to me more than I thought, but I this was not the most pleasant reading experience.