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Leaving the Atocha Station (2011)

by Ben Lerner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8414520,839 (3.62)20
Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam’s “research” becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader’s projections? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?… (more)
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    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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» See also 20 mentions

English (42)  Spanish (2)  Piratical (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
I'm glad I read this several years ago, as my current willingness to read about difficult and oblivious white men is SUPER LOW. But at the time, I enjoyed the unreliable narrative aspect and then general meandering-ness of the story and lack of lessons being learned. ( )
  Venarain | Jan 10, 2022 |
A book I loved and felt connected with on a deep level. The way the main character described his interactions with people carried a sense of real alienation, and a consciousness of that alienation, that I completely identified with. Lerner writes his character's social life so convincingly, so piercingly.

It was not an irreverent book, but there were moments of extreme whimsy, or perhaps just sharp randomness, that felt faithful to the amorphous condition of humans' personalities and their interactions. And I very much identified with how lost, purposeless and dependent the main character was. He handled philosophical questions in an intensely interesting way, provoking thoughts that I have about my own life constantly and about art and literature and poetry that I have also played with.

The writing was precise but moved in waves, like a real thought process -- propelled forward, idea after idea, by a "sheer directionality". The setting -- Madrid -- was only icing on the cake. A great book. ( )
  Gadi_Cohen | Sep 22, 2021 |
i hate how much i liked this book. everything about it is aggressively loathsome and it made me feel loathsome for liking it and relating to it. it's good. ( )
  icedtati | Sep 7, 2021 |
Generally, I like Lerner's stories when I encounter one, but the agonizing self-consciousness of the protagonist (which maybe works in something shorter?) struck me as, perhaps, overdone. And yet
. . . who am I to say? What do I know? Was I agonizingly self conscious? Have I forgotten my own agonies? Yes and no. My discomforts took a different form and I never had an issue with drugs or alcohol, nor am I bipolar although, yeah, plenty of the uni sort of polar. (He hints at this but never clarifies--I guess to keep the novel from being classed a novel about a young bipolar poet abroad, the avoidance with which I can totally sympathize). Perhaps this IS a genuine experience of an unsure 20-something male, not yet able to manage responsibly, who has, without quite understanding why or even how, achieved success by winning a prestigious fellowship to Spain. No matter, he feels undeserving and fraudulent and often responds to kind gestures with whoppers, large and small. The thing about fiction is that you read in order to enter a different mind or person's reality, so I can't condemn this lad for his obsession with himself and his own actions (you soon learn most people couldn't say what you were wearing or saying five minutes after leaving you--and what a relief!). The lad is in Madrid, he's told the fellowship administrator a preposterous lie about his 'project' but really mostly smokes a lot of has and lies about reading Tolstoy . . . This is a novel of the 'nothing happens' variety where, in fact, a great deal of the not-melodramtic happens, some growing up mainly. I didn't love the novel, but I was engaged and occasionally amused or enlightened. I teeter between 3 1/2 and 4 stars (as if it matters) so take your pick. ***1/2 or is it ****? ( )
1 vote sibylline | Aug 7, 2021 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 42 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ben Lernerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Vlek, RonaldTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam’s “research” becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader’s projections? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?

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