Escaping Barcelona by Henry Martin

maddaysofmeIn Escaping Barcelona (Smashwords, 230 pages), Henry Martin demonstrates a subtle mastery of first-person fiction. His protagonist Rudy is an aimless but amiable narrator whose decision to backpack to Barcelona is just a slacker lark until he’s assaulted and robbed upon his arrival. Traumatized and penniless, Rudy suddenly has to fend for himself.

For an American kid who never had to worry about bare necessities before, life on the streets hits Rudy hard. He gets used to hunger and bad hygiene, but the indifference and inhumanity he encounters leaves him deeply disillusioned. Pietro, the petty thief who ends up with Rudy’s passport, exploits his helplessness, manipulating him with an ever more remote hope of escape. As often as he gets help or mercy from strangers, others revel in their ability to mistreat this anonymous vagrant with impunity.

Perceptive readers will realize that Martin isn’t simply painting a realistic picture of homelessness and poverty. He’s describing alienation at its core. Unplugged from family and friends, the media and the social life of civilization, Rudy’s world becomes the network of streets and the humans he encounters. He needs strength to fight despair in the face of so much inhumanity. The cultural aspect of Barcelona is conspicuous in its absence; the amazing architectural and artistic wonders of the city are mere surfaces, and only its subway has any utility in Rudy’s degraded, animal existence.

Henry Martin is never gratuitous or cynical in his portrayal of life on the streets. Despite his dehumanizing experiences, Rudy doesn’t give up hope. The reader ends up rooting for him in his final bid for freedom, which Martin turns into a real nail-biter. Will one of Rudy’s schemes pay off before the streets do him in? This is an exciting, intelligent book full of vivid, realistic dialogue and characters.

Steve Farrell, author of Nothingness, 2012

Excerpt:

By the time we make it back to the square, the nightly spectacle had already begun. There are tourists everywhere. For some time, I busy myself studying their faces— emptiness, nothing but emptiness. The aura of civilization has lost its spark. The industrial age, though only a small blip on the history of mankind, has taken its toll. It’s always the same stories, the same empty places. Families walk around showing their children the fountains and the marvels of Spanish architecture, thinking that they are passing on some imperative knowledge and heritage. Yet no one realizes that the vital always remains unspoken: Be human, be open-minded, and be willing to learn. Nothing could be simpler than that, yet it is the hardest lesson to accept or teach. We raise our progeny with vanity and prejudice. We doom future generations and ourselves; we have destroyed the idea of simplicity.

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