PUBLISHED THROUGH: Create Space
Rudy, the main character in Henry Martin's "Escaping Barcelona," falls down the rabbit hole and keeps spiraling deeper and deeper into trouble. He arrives in Barcelona through a random choice at the train station while trying to escape his dead-end life and his own past mistakes. He starts his journey full of optimism, only for the adventure to quickly turn into a nightmare. Within days, Rudy is raped and robbed of all his possessions.
While Rudy's nationality is never divulged, he doesn't speak Spanish and only some English. Stranded in a city where he can't speak the language, without a passport or anyone to turn to, Rudy soon becomes one of the invisible street people the world tries not to see.
With its realistic, graphic depiction of homelessness, "Escaping Barcelona" reads more like a memoir than fiction. Martin deftly conveys all the horror of Rudy's predicament and the terror of being completely vulnerable to attacks by everyone, from predatory gangs to the police. The vivid, gritty descriptions of the physical ravages of near-starvation and a lack of hygiene, recorded through the detached observations of Rudy (who is most likely suffering from PTSD) are both repulsive and heartbreaking.
Many of the themes in "Escaping Barcelona"--alienation and belonging, angst and idealism--harken to "Catcher in the Rye." Like Holden Caulfield, Rudy's difficulties are often self-inflicted by his own youthful arrogance and pride, but through all his ordeals, Rudy clings to his idealism.
While mostly avoiding romanticizing Rudy's plight, there are a few scenes that push the limits of credibility. Could even the wildest, most rebellious of teenage girls on holiday be attracted to, much less kiss, a homeless man? Not likely, given Rudy's description of his own appearance (yellowed teeth, dirt-covered face) and odor (like garbage). Since this is told from Rudy's point of view, we can only hope his deluded memory embellished the encounter, otherwise it's incomprehensible. Aside from that, it's a great testament to Martin's writing ability that the reader cares about Rudy, despite wanting to shake him (without actually touching him) for refusing to call his parents for help.
Ultimately, Rudy escapes Barcelona, but he's not going home. We can't help but root for Rudy to succeed in his future adventures but suspect he's in for more struggles in the next two novels in Martin's "Mad Days of Me" trilogy.
It takes a skilled writer to make a reader care about an often unsympathetic character. Martin makes the reader sympathize with Rudy, even while wanting to slap him. The story moves at a fast pace, from one near-disaster to the next, begging the reader to turn the page to see what happens next. The violent set up to the story, including a fairly vivid description of Rudy's rape, makes this unsuitable for young teens. Late teens and twenty-somethings in particular would be drawn into the story and relate to Rudy.
4.5 out of 5 stars. I deducted 1/2 a star because I can't get over the girls, even young tourist girls looking for an adventure, kissing him. Not after the graphic descriptions of the protagonist's lack of hygiene. Ewww. That probably says a lot about Martin's talent for bringing the reader fully into the scene, smells and all. But still... ewww.
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Lynne Hinkey is a writer by passion, a marine scientist by training, and a curmudgeon by nature. Her first novel, Marina Melee, is a tropical-island misadventure available through Casperian Books. Her second novel, Ye Gods! A Tale of Dogs and Demons, comes out in spring 2014. Visit her at www.lynnehinkey.com