Henry Martin’s thoughtful and intelligent discourses in the GoodReads community threads intrigued me enough to pounce on the chance to read Escaping Barcelona when he submitted it for screening and reviewing in The Source.
And I was glad I did, because Escaping Barcelona is a novel that will stay with me long after I reached the last page. Rudy is an enigma. At first I thought he was ‘an American abroad’, but despite references to American measurements and valuta, Rudy’s lack of Spanish and English made me reassess my first impressions. I believe Rudy’s nationality has been left deliberately vague to avoid giving the reader any preconceptions towards the protagonist.
After Rudy gets robbed and brutalized and finds himself stuck in a city where he’s essentially a stranger, his struggle for survival on the streets becomes a poignant travelogue, where Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into a mire of betrayals and danger, with few chances of hope.
Since my own personality is more purposeful than Rudy’s, I was frequently frustrated with his passive/defeatist attitude, and his tendency to focus more on cigarettes and wine than nourishment and hygiene. Which also spoiled the infrequent intimacy Rudy had with female tourists—I wondered if these women weren’t repulsed by his unwashed smell or ‘I haven’t brushed for weeks’ breath. I can understand how a street person fails to smell himself, but other people still have noses.
Still, that’s the stickler for verisimilitude in me. And the fact that I got frustrated also means that I was emotionally invested in the character, which is a tribute to Henry Martin's penmanship.
Rudy’s ordeal—having to live on the streets of an unfamiliar city, trusting strangers and hoping to regain the means to escape Barcelona—is written with a sensory detail that rings disturbingly authentic, from the physical deterioration to the desperate scrabble for nourishment and the small moments of happiness resulting from the unexpected kindness of strangers.
Henry Martin has an ability to draw memorable characters and imbue them with an ambiguity that makes the reader wary about their intentions. Although there are a few characters that lean more toward the darker side of humanity, most characters have to forego the luxury of moral superiority in order to simply survive on the mean streets of Barcelona.
Following Rudy around Barcelona was interesting and rewarding. I’m eager to read Henry Martin’s other works, and follow Rudy’s further adventures.