Breakfast in Babylon

Breakfast in Babylon

by Emer Martin
     
 

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Isolt is down but not out in Paris. She's a sharp-tongued Irish drifter with a fierce instinct for survival who falls into a darkly comic relationship with Christopher, the "hoodoo man." He's a Puerto Rican anarchist and wheeler-dealer from Detroit who fuels his messianic delusions with Iggy Pop songs and smack. From Dublin to Paris, New York to New Orleans, the two

Overview

Isolt is down but not out in Paris. She's a sharp-tongued Irish drifter with a fierce instinct for survival who falls into a darkly comic relationship with Christopher, the "hoodoo man." He's a Puerto Rican anarchist and wheeler-dealer from Detroit who fuels his messianic delusions with Iggy Pop songs and smack. From Dublin to Paris, New York to New Orleans, the two run small-time scams, deal dope, and squat among an international underclass of vagabonds and punk-junkies. Begging is their way of life, until Isolt determines a desperate escape. Written with razor-sharp humor and raw storytelling verve, Breakfast in Babylon explores the stark world of a rootless generation - a world of beggars who choose and beggars who have no choice.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Winner of Ireland's prestigious 1996 Book of the Year award, this startling debut delivers a gritty, knowing transatlantic response to the current U.S. trend in "tough girl" writing. It traces the path of a young Irish woman, Isolt, as she wanders through London, Paris, Munich, Amsterdam and Israel. This journey takes her up and down the rotten underbelly of the New Europe, through a shadow-world populated by drifting bands of misfits: drug addicts, social welfare scammers and vagrants-by-choice who winter in Northern Europe's inner-city squats. Half anarchist, half waif, rebelling against the system but often tossed and bruised by the predominantly male world of the street, Isolt survives on her lust for life and thirst for adventure. She falls in loveand outwith Christopher, "The Hoodoo Man," a charismatic but manipulative drug dealer and addict from Detroit (Martin handles the metamorphosis of this relationship from misguided love into nightmarish abuse with enaging insight). Isolt makes some friendsmost notably Becky, a junkie who dies anonymously in a derelict cellarand many acquaintances: victims of empire, small-time opportunists, refugees from political slaughter or miserable family lives. Despite the grimness of her subject, Martin enlivens her work with dark, often hilarious humor, and disarming compassion. Isolt's personal confusion is affecting, but it is her articulate reflection on the plight of others that most touches the reader. Like the work of a latter-day, punk Breughel, Martin's large tableau encompasses a whirl of memorable characters in beauty, brutality and humor. (Sept.)
Library Journal
The hallucinatory prose of Martin's first novel painfully evokes the milieu of the world's disaffected youth. Fleeing from Thatcher's Britain and Reagan's America, the drifters, beggars, and dopers who populate this work gather in Paris, where a squat is easy to find and the French are generous to the indigent. Irish Isolt finds herself drawn to Christopher, a bizarre American dealer with a heroin addiction. Although her friends are horrified, Isolt persists in this sadomasochistic relationship, where episodes of abuse are punctuated by marathon rounds of drugs. Martin knows her territory: the realistic depiction of her band of losers is matched by the humanity that imbues them, and the brutality of her prose is leavened with self-deprecating humor. Although this novel is sure to offend many, it is highly recommended wherever good prose and honest fiction are appreciated.Andrea Caron Kempf, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, Kan.
Kirkus Reviews
A sobering if unsure tale of the flotsam of Europe—beggars and junkies living from one score and squat to the next—and of a young woman's experience as a part of it, in a debut from Dublin- born Martin.

Paris is where the bulk of the action takes place, as Irish teenager Isolt lands penniless among the beggars and quickly adapts to their ways. The death from a stumble down stairs of an alcoholic friend, an older, once beautiful woman who escaped husband and children to find refuge among the addicts, is an early lesson for Isolt, but it comes at a time when she's not quite ready to heed it. When the chill of Paris becomes too much, she and her friends hop a train to the southern coast, but aside from sampling a new drug that makes them all crazy, sleeping on the beach hasn't much appeal. Isolt returns to the city and pairs up with Christopher, a Hispanic dealer/junkie from Detroit whose dark side the others fear but whose housing tips generally keep them all dry. When he uses up a drug shipment he was supposed to sell, however, things start to go sour. The gentle giant living with Isolt and junkie Christopher is beaten to death by their supplier's thugs, so they flee to London, where Isolt can live on the dole. A marriage for the conveniences that citizenship would offer follows, but Christopher's barbaric nature quickly warps the relationship. Isolt falls desperately in love with one of her ex-squatmates, only to see this path to redemption nipped in the bud when her husband locks her up and brutalizes her again. She escapes to America, looking for a fresh start.

Excessive commentary and a complicated, unconvincing villain don't help this gloomy if undeniably frank and vivid story, leaving one to hope for a firmer hand on the reins next time.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780395875957
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/15/1997
Pages:
321
Product dimensions:
5.53(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.86(d)

What People are saying about this

Stephen Dixon
Reminds me of Celine'sJourney to the End of the Night…An auspicious, impressive debut, hot, mad and exciting like a young writer's first work should be.
—(Stephen Dixon, author ofGould)

Meet the Author

Emer Martin was born in Dublin in 1968. She has lived in London, Paris, and the Middle East, and graduated as valedictorian from Hunter College in 1998. Her first novel, Breakfast in Babylon, was named Ireland's Best Book of 1996 at the prestigious Listowel Writers' Week. More Bread or I'll Appear is her second novel.

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