Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review of Escaping Barcelona by Henry Martin

Martin, H. (2012).  Mad Days of Me:  Escaping Barcelona.

Alone in a foreign country.  Unable to speak the language but enjoying solitary freedom and adventure nonetheless.  Then, brutally attacked and assaulted, robbed of most of your belongings, including your money and your passport.  This is the scenario that faces Rudy in Escaping Barcelona, the first volume in the Mad Days of Me trilogy by independent author Henry Martin.  What begins as an adventurous trip and a path to a fresh start, quickly descends into a nightmare spiraling out of control that Rudy is unable to escape.

Rudy is a young European man frustrated with the dead-end that he has reached in life.  Due to the economy, he is underemployed and forced to move back home with his family.  He feels like he will never measure up to his police officer brother and yearns for a fresh start.  On an impulse, he buys a train ticket to Vienna where a friend named Michael lives.  After unsuccessfully attempting to convince his girlfriend to join him, he travels alone to Vienna, where he discovers that Michael is away.  Undeterred, he begins his adventure across the continent, stopping in various cities.  Another impulse leads him to stop in Barcelona.  Things start out well at first. He finds cheap, clean lodging at a youth hostel and goes out to a cafe to sit and enjoy the evening and take in his surroundings.  Suddenly, he hears two men speaking Arabic come up behind him and feels a knife at his throat.  They drag him away to some bushes, where he is sexually assaulted and robbed.  When he wakes up, his passport, his money, and most of his belongings are gone.  In physical as well as emotional pain, he makes his way to a police station where he files an assault complaint.  He is too ashamed to tell the officers that he was raped.  He is given temporary papers that will last for thirty days.  He then goes to the consulate where he learns that they can't do anything for him because he doesn't have the money to purchase a replacement passport and he is too ashamed to contact his family to have them send the money.  Thus begins his journey into homelessness.  As Rudy struggles desperately to find a way out of the situation, he reaches the depths of despair and misery, facing hunger, hopelessness, and repeated brushes with violence.  Along the way he meets several colorful individuals and he learns a lot about himself.

Henry Martin is a novelist and poet who lives with his family in the Northeast United States.  In addition to the Mad Days of Me trilogy (Finding Evissa and Eluding Reality are the other books in the series), he has also written a short story anthology and a collection of poems.  Learn more about him by checking out the Author Interview page on this blog.

While independent and self-publishing is becoming increasingly popular, in some circles, there is still a certain stigma that insinuates that authors self-publish because their work isn't good enough to find a traditional publisher.  Escaping Barcelona proves that a lack of a traditional publisher does not automatically mean a lack of talent.  This novel was professionally edited and full of great writing.  I found myself reading late into the night, being pulled into Rudy's world and rooting for him as he tried to find a way out of his miserable situation.  I would definitely recommend this book for very mature audiences due to the themes of sexual assault, drug abuse, and the violence that Rudy encounters as he navigates living on the streets.  However, while some novels are over the top with the use of graphic details, Martin uses these themes quite succinctly to paint a gritty but very realistic portrait of both the traps that can befall unsuspecting tourists in foreign countries, as well as the day-to-day life of the homeless.

As Rudy finds himself trapped into life on the streets, he hits rock bottom.  Along the way, he comes to many poignant realizations about life.  He begins to appreciate the simple things that he once took for granted-a shower, clean clothes, a hot meal, a bed to sleep in.  He meditates on how we as humans look down on the less fortunate among us and now that he finds himself in those ranks, he understands how much the blank stares, the careless ignorance, and rude dismissal directed towards the homeless can hurt.  However, Escaping Barcelona  not only paints a vivid picture of the worst of the human experience, but it also shows the best of the human spirit.  Every time Rudy is about to give up, he finds the strength and inner resolve to keep pushing.  No matter how many times he is knocked back down, he gets back up.  He is also helped by friends, many of whom are in just as bad a situation as he, but together they share what little they have and snatch small bits of light out of the darkness.  Escaping Barcelona is not just about escaping a city, it is about escaping despair and hopelessness and finding the strength to survive and even thrive no matter what life throws at you.

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