Let me start by saying I’m very biased on this one, since the setting is in one of my former homes–Madrid. Based on the title, this novel is about the terrorist attack on Atocha back in 2004, relayed by an American who happened to be there on a fellowship.
Since this is sold as a novel even though there are many similarities between the main character and the writer, I will treat it as a novel. That makes me feel more comfortable in stating that I hated the protagonist so much that I wanted to hit him until he actually had something to whine about. Cruel, I know. But hear me out.
The protagonist, Adam Gordon, has a year-long grant in Spain to write poetry about the Spanish Civil War. Instead of being grateful for this award and doing his best to get to work, most of the novel, he is getting high and feeling that he is a fraud. In addition, he lies to other characters, stating his mother is dying or is dead or is in whatever incapacitated state that allows for pity.
What makes it even worse is how little he focused on the bombing itself. After a night of overly-extravagant dining and lodging at the Ritz, Gordon walks down and sees the devastation from the bombing. Then he goes back to his hotel room. It’s not like he can even donate blood because of the drugs in his system.
While I get that there’s an argument that can be made for the uninterested, self-involved American portrayed here, I was disappointed that the setting wasn’t enjoyed more. This was an awesome opportunity to portray an American expat in Spain, one that doesn’t need to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps.
There were some moments where I enjoyed the imagery, especially that of the hash dealers in Retiro. I also really enjoyed Gordon’s walks through the Prado.