In 1939, the S.S. Saint Louis arrived in Cuba with 900 Jewish refugees. They boarded hoping for a new life, only to be turned away by immigration officials. Twelve-year-old Daniel Kaminsky, along with his uncle and neighbors, lined Havana’s docks praying that some of the passengers might be allowed to disembark. Among the passengers were Daniel’s parents and younger sister. In their possession was a small Rembrandt portrait of Christ that has been passed down from generation to generation. They hoped to trade the family heirloom for their freedom. Unfortunately, the ship was sent away, and the Kaminskys and their painting disappeared.
Seventy years later, Daniel’s son, Elias, finds out that the Rembrandt painting is going to be sold by a London auction house. Elias enlists the help of Cuban detective, Mario Conde, to help him discover what happened to the painting after its voyage to Cuba and how it ended up in London.
Heretics is a long and winding novel that takes place in Cuba and Europe in the 1930s, Poland in the 1600s, and in contemporary Cuba. Sprinkled throughout are dozens of characters and lengthy passages of philosophical pondering. The novel loses momentum at times, and the different time periods make it feel a bit disjointed. The highlight is the former policeman turned detective, Conde. The world-weary detective, his ragtag group of friends, and dog, Garbage II, bring a bit of levity to the story. This is the eighth in a series of books Padura has written featuring Conde. Even though I found this story a little slow, Conde’s character was engaging enough that I want to read more books in this series.