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Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

by Ben Lerner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7744221,230 (3.59)18
One of the most talked-about, widely celebrated, and exhilaratingly original US debuts of 2011, here is a portrait of the artist as a young man adrift in an age of Google searches and globalisation.
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» See also 18 mentions

English (39)  Spanish (2)  Piratical (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
I hope that the first book I finished reading this year is not a sign of the books to come as it left underwhelmed. Because the author Ben Lerner is a poet, I thought I would be as enthralled by this book as I was with another poet’s book, Mark Doty’s Still Life with Oysters. I certainly should know better by now not to ever raise my expectations about any book as it very often leads to disappointment.

I picked up Leaving Atocha Station because I like reading books set in places I plan to visit, and I am meeting L. in Madrid in a few weeks. To be fair, Lerner does portrait Madrid in vivid colours, describing sites, museums, food, etc quite well. But although it has helped me establish a sense of Madrid, which was my initial hope for this book, it failed in that I was not able to form a connection with the main character.

Well Lerner, if this is after all an autobiographical book/memoir, I think I have met young men like you when I too was younger; young men that hided their insecurities under a shield of highly intellectual pronouncements and arching of their eyebrows while demeaning the women they were trying to pursue with lies. I was too young then to leave these relationships unscarred, and if nowadays I look back with pity on them, and on you, I still have not forgiven any of it. Anxiety, addiction, cultural disconnect and even mental health issues – as it seemed to be the case with the main character in your book – are not excuses for a lack of integrity and honesty.

Am I being too hard on you while you were attempting a confession here? Are you asking for forgiveness and redemption? If this is as autobiographical as it seems, I do hope that you are in a better place, but my biggest hope and compassion goes to the women you met and hurt, that they too have moved on to better places.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Book Review-Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

An aspiring, self-doubting poetry student travels to Madrid, Spain for a one-year fellowship. His proposed work is to create poetry that reflects the Spanish Civil War. The expectation is that he does intensive academic research yet, in reality, he spends most of his days prowling the galleries of The Prado, walking the streets, studying Spanish and translation, and hanging out with well to do artists and gallery owners. A loner, at heart, he lives most days in his own head observing his own thoughts and those imagined of others he interacts with, fearing that he may be exposed as a charlatan.

There are some nice set pieces on “the profound experience of art”, the difficulty of grasping a new language and translating poetry from English to Spanish and his “inability to grasp or be grasped by the poem.”

We follow our American student as he holes up in his attic apartment on the Plaza de Santa Ana, explores the Las Letras, Chueca, Retiro and Salamanca barrios, and takes overnight trains to first Granada, and then Barcelona. For those readers who have travelled these paths it is easy to envision his steps as he moves from one event to the next.

While there, he involves himself with two women: Isabel, a teacher at the language school he attends whom he inadvertently embarrasses, and Teresa a stylish bon vivant who translates his work into Spanish and assists in helping him become better known as an up-and-coming voice.

On March 11th, when a terrorist bomb explodes at the Atocha Station the mood and intensity of the settings shifts. The citizens of Madrid go out on massive demonstrations and we see political and social impacts unfold.

This is a fast-moving short novel that introduced Ben Lerner to the reading public. I have also read his recent The Topeka School which also has autobiographical aspects; Lerner has succeeded, much like Philip Roth, in characterizing his own persona in an exploration of the psychological and creative realms of life. ( )
  berthirsch | Feb 17, 2021 |
Quirky and funny because of it, this book gave me some food for thought about the nature of art and its impact on those who engage. This is the central question for Adam Gordon, a poet on a fellowship in Madrid, who veers between being a complete impostor (he can barely speak Spanish!) and an innocent who wants to understand the nature of his gift. Unfortunately, he often (over) self-medicates with pot, alcohol and tranquilizers, so his experience isn't exactly authentic. He avoids his fellowship committee (the impostor problem) and acquires a group of native friends and lovers and finds himself in some challenging situations which he mostly bumbles through with his poet's detachment. An interesting commentary on our times (set in 2004) and the world's uncertainty - the trains station bombing in Madrid is a scene, but mostly a coming-of-age story for the new millennium. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
Starts out well but a real struggle after halfway through. ( )
  arewenotben | Jul 31, 2020 |
Enjoyable read. Blends the sincerity and parody in the life of a young pretentious poet. ( )
  albertgoldfain | May 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ben Lernerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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One of the most talked-about, widely celebrated, and exhilaratingly original US debuts of 2011, here is a portrait of the artist as a young man adrift in an age of Google searches and globalisation.

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