A Book, Read – #13/2016 – Lerner, Ben – Leaving the Atocha Station


Though I finished this book on April 2, I began the book on the 31st of March, which is my birthday.  That weekend, my wife and I went to the Coast to relax, enjoy the sun, have a nice wine or two, and read and read and read.  The Saturday was the 2nd, which is when I read the bulk of the book.

Unfortunately I spent a good chunk of Saturday morning in hospital, which is a story for (perhaps) another day.

At any rate, that afternoon, bruised and battered from falling on to some rocks on the beach, I read almost the entire book with a glass of wine in hand.  I could hear waves from outside the bedroom, and if I glanced up I could see far-off cargo ships slowly making their way from port to port.  At times a seagull landed on a nearby power pole.  It was a peaceful afternoon.

Lerner’s book engendered within me a strong sense of nostalgia for Spain and Madrid, a country and city I spent six glorious weeks in during the July-August months of 2012.  I didn’t drench myself in sex or drugs the way Lerner’s character does (My wife was here in Australia, and drugs aren’t really for me), but I felt a strong kinship with the sense of freedom and of being untethered to reality that another country can provide, particularly when that country speaks a different language to your own, and when you admire the culture and literary history of the place.

The protagonist of Leaving the Atocha Station is a loner and a dreamer, and is a bit lost in his life, but he isn’t lonely or melancholy, which is a nice change.  Too often these kinds of books see their main characters learning or – worse – growing as a result of their experience somewhere exotic and far away.  Not in this case.  The character changes, things happen, realisations are made, but really – epiphanies are for bad movies and worse books.  Instead, disappearing into another country allows one the opportunity to examine who they are and who they wish to be, and to help develop a framework for becoming their best self when they return to reality.  It is possible in situations such as these to extricate yourself from the mundanity of ordinary life (because you are not living your ordinary life in these times), and explore different potential versions of yourself.

I connected very well with this book.  I have missed Spain since I left it, and I found a lot of myself in the protagonist.  I made a birthday vow to return to Spain, which I still hope will happen.  This time with my wife, who was asleep beside me for most of the time, her own book, a Jodi Picoult, I think, opened and folded page-side-down, her own glass of wine half-finished, and rapidly warming in the afternoon sun.

The Books, Read page contains a list of all of the books I have read over the years.


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