Leaving the Atocha Station
By Ben Lerner
Coffee House Press, 2011
Adam Gordon is an American poet spending a year in Spain on a writing fellowship. Told from a close first-person point of view, this book recounts the ups and downs of his year as he struggles to communicate in a language he does not fully comprehend and grapples with what it means to be an artist. The book’s fluid storytelling guides the reader through the minutiae of Adam’s day—every coffee, every cigarette, every visit to the Prado and a lot of time trying to talk to Spanish people.
I enjoyed this book because it gracefully captured a liminal feeling that I have experienced when living overseas This book is voice driven, without much story arc, but I still found it engaging, mainly because how true it felt. The bulk of the story revolves around Adam’s Spanish girlfriend Isabel, who he is not sure he wants to commit to and who is not fully committed to him; his friend Arturo, who he meets randomly in a bar and turns out to also be an artist and art owner; and Arturo’s sister Teresa whom Adam is attracted to, but unclear what to do with his attraction. The narrative drama, however, is the backdrop to Adam’s musings on art, life and truth. He is an American unleashed for a year and Lerner takes us on a ride with him.
This book was widely reviewed, a winner and finalist in book contests and chosen for a handful of “best of” lists. Lerner is also a poet with three books of poetry under his belt. He teaches on the faculty at Brooklyn College.