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Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
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Leaving the Atocha Station (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Ben Lerner

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4102925,944 (3.62)12
Member:Hebephrene
Title:Leaving the Atocha Station
Authors:Ben Lerner
Info:Coffee House Press (2011), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 186 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner (2011)

  1. 00
    The Sorrows of Young Mike by John Zelazny (jashleigh)
    jashleigh: These books are both great travel books and the main characters are going through a similar time in their lives.
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English (26)  Spanish (2)  Piratical (1)  All languages (29)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)


Philosophical and often hilarious ( )
  annadanz | Jul 5, 2015 |
Adam, the narrator and sole consciousness through whom everything in this book is filtered, is slumming through a life of privilege. Ivy educated, fairly recently post-grad, he's on an expenses-paid poetry fellowship in Madrid, although he admits on page 3 that he's never been moved by any poem, much less any piece of art, and the fragments we see of his own poetry are terrible. His fellowship is to write a major poem regarding the impact of the Spanish civil war on contemporary literature, but he's not working on it. Instead, he's stumbling through each day on a diet of marijuana and tranquilizers and coasting on the good will of his acquaintances. None of them know him very well, because he lies to them. He lies to manipulate how they feel about him, he lies to test out how he feels about something, and sometimes he just lies because it's the easiest choice in the moment.

I take issue with people who dismiss a book because they don't like the main character—I don't read literature to find friends, I read in hopes that life will become a little more illuminated. The trouble here is that living through Adam's thoughts quickly becomes claustrophobic and exasperating. His self-centeredness is not the problem: the problem is his refusal to engage. There is no growth in this story, much less a journey. He just coasts to the end, unconsciously confident that his parents and the benevolent authorities who are paying his way will continue to find a way for him, one way or another. And unlike in greater first-person novels with a naive protagonist, there's no tension between what the protagonist knows and what we as readers know. If only there were something to like about our hero! Unfortunately, his prose is sometimes so monotonous that it can read like a court transcript. "I rolled a spliff and asked her if she wanted any and she said no and I lay in bed smoking while she sat at the little table in the corner and worked on the translations, opening my notebook and hers. I asked her if she wanted to read me some and she again said no. I didn't understand her method. She had no dictionary and asked no questions and I wondered if she was translating at all. After a while she came to bed and shut her eyes and I tried in my clumsy way to initiate some contact but she was totally if somehow gently unresponsive and soon she was asleep." So was I. ( )
  john.cooper | Jun 22, 2015 |
There was a lot I enjoyed here (or made me wince in sympathy) -- a writer gently drifting through the expat experience, certain he is faking his way through it all, going to museums, stumbling through the language, avoiding his writing, hiding out from authority figures (however well-meaning)... I would have been happy enough with just that, but when political violence was introduced, it felt like the author was reaching too hard for "cultural significance". Plus the story suddenly felt dated.

Similarly heavy-handed was the author feeling the need to explicitly point out that while the narrator *felt* like a fraud as a writer and spanish speaker, actually he was doing just fine. Yes, I got that. It was more charming when that was left unspoken. ( )
  amydross | Apr 21, 2015 |
the first 2 pages are really good ( )
  Stuckey_Bowl | Mar 23, 2015 |
The kind of literary fiction where not much happens plot wise (despite the Madrid train bombing). Adam’s an American poet on a research fellowship in Spain. Starting as a non-Spanish speaker, he indulges the fantasy that language is a barrier to true communication, leading to misunderstandings, face saving lies and far from fluent back-tracking. Over time he better translates the subtleties of developing relationships via a second language and in a different social and political culture. At least, his lies become more fluent. All complicated by his choice to live in a dissociated fog of prescription medicine, hash and alcohol. As his friend Teresa puts it: “When are you going to stop pretending you’re only pretending to be a poet?” This is poet Ben Lerner’s first novel and I hope he writes more. ( )
  Bernadette877 | Feb 22, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ben Lernerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In Madrid on a fellowship, a young American poet examines his ambivalence about authenticity.

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