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Literary Americans Abroad

Young literary Americans abroad, from Ernest Hemingway at the bullfights to novelist Ben Lerner right now.

The Atocha train station in Madrid, Spain. (lacasitosdechorizo/Flickr)

The Atocha train station in Madrid, Spain. (lacasitosdechorizo/Flickr)

“You are all a lost generation,” Gertrude Stein told Ernest Hemingway, the iconic young American abroad after World War I. Lost, maybe. But Hemingway’s American abroad was lost in bullfights and brawling. Spanish passion.

In his first novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” 1926, his Americans are flawed, but American competence and power are unquestioned. Flash forward most of a century. A new voice of the young American abroad is speaking. And it’s a much more modest voice.

This hour, On Point: From Hemingway to our time, and Ben Lerner’s “Leaving the Atocha Station.”

-Tom Ashbrook


Ben Lerner, poet and novelist, his new new book is Leaving the Atocha Station.

Gary Sernovitz, a novelist, his review of Leaving The Atocha Station is here.

Steve Paul, arts editor at the Kansas City Star and an expert on Ernest Hemingway.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times “In a book soaked in references to art and literature, there is no evident allusion to another short first novel centered on a young Midwesterner in Spain: “The Sun Also Rises,” published in 1926. Lerner’s novel could have the same epigraph as Ernest Hemingway’s — Gertrude Stein: “You are all a lost generation” — and both books remind us that if you are far from home, alienated from life’s clean meaning, unfulfilled in love, and have a lot of time on your hands, you can at least make the days pass by being stoned, drunk or both.”

The New Yorker “He may be aimless, but he has a poised intelligence, hospitable to paradox and dialectic, so that his “profound experience of the absence of profundity” becomes, for the reader, an engrossing inquiry into a man’s shallow depths; this short novel, in which nothing much happens, never feels like a longer one.”

Video: Midnight in Paris And Hemingway

Filmmaker Woody Allen parodied a young Ernest Hemingway in his 2011 film “Midnight in Paris.” Hemingway is played by the actor Corey Stoll.

Excerpt: Leaving The Atocha Station

[Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.]


Main theme The Sun Also Rises 1957
“And I was born” by The Lab

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  • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

    as a young american abroad (france) i find it simultaneously inspiring and daunting the footsteps that have been laid before me. on a personal level people are always kind and interested why an american is in their neck of the woods. however on a global, political level they are not big fans of the US neither too the luminous trail blaze by those loved by woody allen’s film.

    i’m talking about real people not your average paris bobo


  • Russo Lea

    I recently spent a year in graduate school at kings college in London and loved every minute of it. I found all of the people i met to be more intrigued and interested in my “American-ness” than put off by it ( including countries like France and Greece). I miss the connection to the world that o felt there and have felt very cut off physically and culturally since returning. Looking forward to an upcoming trip to Ireland to raise my spirits!
    Lea R
    Boston, MA

    • PasqualeCap

      Not surprising Lea as the British are partners in international skullduggery with the US.  You should try some countries that don’t speak English and see if they love your americaness.

      • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

        people tend to like people, its the governments that create the bad names for the people!

      • Michele

         Having lived in England – I have traveled all over Europe and different parts of Asia and have found most people to be friendly to Americans, curious about the US and not hateful as you seem to suggest. While in England I came into contact with many people (British and foreigners) who were fascinated with the US and always look to the American in the room to explain the motives of the US government.  That becomes rather frustrating  when one doesn’t agree with certain policies and  actions taken, etc.

        Incidentally, the only person I ever encountered who was appallingly rude to me because I am American was a Brit.  After approaching me as I was walking in London minding my own business and about to board a coach he asked if I was American when I affirmed that I was, he literally snarled at me and started cursing at me. 

        There again and much more than citizens of other countries – Americans are seen as defacto ambassadors for the US and our exported culture.

        We have big feet culturally, politically and mostly economically therefore our footprint is indelible and we all must deal with the reverberations.

  • Samantha

    I am also a young American abroad, living currently in Santiago, Chile. I would have to agree that Hemingway´s footsteps are somewhat daunting and maybe unrealistic in 2012. I speak Spanish fluently and have many Chilean friends yet still find myself falling into familiar “American” comforts – reading the NYTimes, listening to NPR, occasionally visiting Starbucks. I would also say that as the entire world becomes more aesthetically and culturally similar to America, the dream of really escaping “America” is much harder than in Hemingway´s day.

  • ThePope

    I guess the chances that you will interview a truly interesting author who actually knows something extraordinary like Dwa is just too much to hope for. Just go on with the corporate vetted knownothings that pass the sniff test of the monied elite who pick and choose who get famous.

  • Jpculture1

    Very disappointing. An opportunity to discuss American literature and a fine work of literary fiction becomes an occasion to delve into all-too-familiar gripes about politics and American foreign policy.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24502530 Brian P. Larrow

    Thoroughly enjoyed the program.  Having traveled all over the world, I can honestly say that only a few times has my American nationality ever produced any negative comments.  One time in jest, when taking a taxi cab in China that was piloted by a former “Volunteer” who took part in the Korean war on the Chinese side.  The most severe situation was on a long distance bus in Northern Viet Nam where a younger man intimidated me a bit with his speaking about Americans killing Vietnamese during the war.  Fortunately, I was able to reply that “I don’t like that” in my rudimentary Vietnamese and calmed the situation.  Out of the literally thousands of interactions I have had, most people only took me on my individual merits or faults.  

    Two and a half years living in China led me to sometimes consider “the lost generation” as most of the expats teaching English abroad may in some ways be considered.  There is the same range of people working and/or concealing a drinking problem.  The ultimate factor is that there are few jobs or opportunities in the US where one can be paid well in in excess of one’s basic needs.  This allows you to enjoy your life, learn the language, travel, make friends, and maybe even save for the future.  Can’t wait to escape America again where, as a college graduate, my best option is to work under the table for $10/hr.

  • Roymerritt19

    When Hemingway was in Europe I suspect America was regarded in a better vein than it has since the end of WW II and shortly thereafter at the advent of the Marshall Plan.  It was a young democracy that had grappled with fulfilling  the kind of country it deemed itself to be.  We were creating our own literature and
    had produced some truly unique writers such as Mark Twain who had given a voice to the brashness of America. We had proven that a free people in a minimum amount of time could create even then the largest economy in the world.  We were the land of invention and innovation.  It has been the mantle of the world’s most powerful military and protector of the western world that has over the years tarnished America’s image.  The specter of their leaders sometimes subverting their national interest in the interest of an alliance with the USA no doubt rankles many Europeans in that they see themselves as the center of culture in the world and America as the heart of crass commercialism.  And yet since the 50s they’ve been inundated
    by what they likely view as a vulgar expression of culture.  They’ve seen fast food joints spring up everywhere.  It’s all to much.  It has been in essence the Americanization of the world.  I think at the same time the present political rancor in the USA is an American rejection of what America has become by the right.  But their motivations or better yet the reasons are poles apart from why the Europeans have grown skeptical of us.  The right however fails to realize the kind of America they desire is more akin to how Europe conducted itself not so long ago and what provoked us into the position we find ourselves.  And as they proceed they will no doubt cause Yanks abroad to increasingly  hesitate to reveal their nationality.  At the same time too they are alienating the vast majority of the citizenry within our own borders with its embrace of oligarchy and crackpot religiosity. Despite all this I’m optimistic for the future knowing deep down as Churchill said “America in the end always does the right thing.”  Besides that I’m 63 years old and have no choice.

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