cover image Heretics


Leonardo Padura, trans. from the Spanish by Anna Kushner. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (544p) ISBN 978-0-374-16885-8

In Heretics, Padura (The Man Who Loved Dogs) unfurls nearly 400 years in the disparate fortunes of the Kaminsky family, who, in 1939, flee Nazi Germany for Havana having staked their survival on a single family heirloom: a small portrait of Christ painted by Rembrandt. The story of what happened after—how the then-nine-year-old Daniel Kaminsky came to disavow his Jewish faith and become embroiled in a Dickensian underworld of thieves, charlatans, and murder, only to leave Cuba for the United States—falls to his son, Elias, to unravel in 2007, after the same Rembrandt painting turns up for sale in a London auction house. In this quest, he enlists a dissipated book-dealer-turned-detective named Mario Conde. But as Mario Conde delves into the mystery of the painting, he unearths the secret history of the Kaminiskys’ ancestor Elias Ambrosius (his friendship with Rembrandt in 17th-century Amsterdam, the heresy embedded in the painting, and the crisis of faith that determined the family’s ensuing itinerancy) and becomes acquainted with Yadine, the young, punkish heiress to the Kaminsky legacy, as she searches for a missing friend. If this sounds like a lot, it’s still only scratching the surface of this voluminously detailed epic, which seems designed to challenge the limits of how much story a book can contain. Padura attempts to join a hardboiled mystery story to a historical epic, and the resulting tonal shifts sometimes strain the material, while still lending stylistic flair to the Kaminskys’ plight. (Mar.)