Customer Reviews: Ship Fever: Stories
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on March 28, 1998
This is one of the most intelligently written collections I have read in a long time. At first thought, I was concerned that the weaving of fictional characters with historical figures from the world of science would result in a contrived work that was more interested in serving its format than it was at achieving its literary goal. My concerns were misplaced. The author has created a series of tales that explore and provide insight into some of the most basic human emotions. She is especially adept at creating events that transcend their natural progression and serve as metaphors for at times exhilarating, and at times disturbing aspects of the human condition. Although I can understand those who might feel that this is a book that is difficult to put down, I would suggest that it is better digested in small servings. Each tale requires some reflection on the reader's part in order to best enjoy this wonderful collection.
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HALL OF FAMEon October 30, 2000
I first discovered Andrea Barrett when I read one of the short stories
in her collection SHIP FEVER, entitled "The Behaviour of the
In her other tales
in this collection, Barret explores experiences and perspecives associated
with science and medicine in the 19th century. One tale "Sorache"
describes the terrible consequences of a treatment for altitude sickness on
a pregnant tourist. In "Birds With No Feet" a young naturalist
realizes his love of nature and his scientific exploits are on a deadly
My second favorite story (after Hawkweeds) is the eponymous
tale "Ship Fever." I could relate to this tale because my great-
grandmother Anna Mary immigrated from Genderalden Bavaria in the 1850s to
Chicago, where the members of her family were struck down by Cholera. Of her
family--father, mother, four brothers and herself--only Anna Mary and
one brother survived. In "Ship Fever" Barrett recounts the
terrible effects of Cholera on the immigrant ships....
These are wonderful
and moving stories. Barrett enlightens us about life in the 19th Century,
where science promised so much while simultaneously introducing a new world
of pain and terror.
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on August 19, 2000
This collection of short stories is amazing if not for the wonderful writing, for the subject matter and themes of the tales. All of the tales are set in the 1800s and involve what one reviewer aptly calls, "the great explorers of mind and geography." Barrett blends together real and fictional historical scientific characters in stories that examine the hearts and minds of the scientists in the last century. In These stories we inspect the genetic gardens and life of Gregor Mendel as experienced by the man who was a boy in those gardens, feel the frustrations of a young man from Philadelphia named Alec who spends his life in the jungles of the Amazon and the Pacific Islands collecting rare insects, birds, and other fauna, a couple of marine biologists who fall in love during a seminar and leave their respective long-established families to marry, and more. The last tale, the most powerful, is about a doctor who works on Grosse Island in Canada, the receiving point for boatloads of Irish immigrants fleeing famine in Ireland, and bringing horrible typhoid fever in sickening and deadly droves. There are thousands of books written about the hearts and emotions of the poets, philosophers, and politicians of the nineteenth century. To have a glimpse, even an imaginary one, of the scientists' as well, well, this collection is a rare treat.
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on January 3, 1997
I was initially drawn to this book by its cover. Upon further examination, I found the various story names very intriguing and decided that this book was worth a try. I have not read anything as thought provoking and so well written in a very long time. Andrea Barrett has skillfully woven historical facts regarding famous scientists, such as Linnaeus, with modern day subjects and characters which brings the stories to life with a truly refreshing richness and sense of credibility. It is filled with lucid descriptions of both persons and places which adds to the joy of reading this compilation of stories. I highly recommend this book, I may not be Oprah, but I am an avid reader and this book is a true treasure. I cannot wait for the publication of her next work. If you have vowed to read more in this New Year, then pick up Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever. Everything else you read after Ship Fever will have a hard time surpassing its brilliance! The old adage of do not judge a book by its cover does not apply is beautiful to behold with the eye and in the hand. It is a modern day masterpiece
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on May 3, 2000
Just as John Grisham's protagonists are lawyers, the protagonists of Andrea Barrett's Ship Fever are biologists and physicians, most often from the 19th century. Ship Fever is a collection of short stories plus a novella which shares the collection's title. The historical novella Ship Fever is of itself more than worth the price of this book, and the short stories that accompany it are gems to be treasured. Ship Fever is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the terrible tragedy of the Irish during the potato famine, and inadequacies of 19th century medicine in dealing with epidemics aboard crowded and unsanitary ships carry fleeing emmigrants. Many of the characters are historical figures, the research is meticulous, and like all stories in this collection, the reader is totally engaged. I highly recommend this book.
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There are already so many good reviews on Amazon for this unusual and magnificent collection of short stories, I’ll try to be brief and add only what might be new and useful. But before I get into the new, I want to emphasize that this book is definitely exquisitely well written. Barrett is an author who understands that a short story improves when every word counts. It’s obvious she spends a great deal of time constructing and rewriting her stories to get them as close to perfect as possible. Reading this book, was my first exposure to Barrett and, frankly, het talent and skill blew me away.

What is particularly noteworthy about these stories are that each is framed within a fascinating history of science context. Because of this unique feature, the book lends itself very well to an unusual type of book discussion group.

Our discussion sessions were two hours in length and each one centered on one story only. For each session, one member agreed to gather information about the scientific historical context underpinning the story and share it with us in a casual talk of about 45 minutes in length. During the talk, there was ample time for discussion. During the second hour, another member (selected in advance) facilitated the group in an in-depth literary and thematic discussion, often there were specific questions sent out in advance via email. In between the parts, we made time for the usual snacks and chatting.

This format worked very well and helped us get a lot more out of this collection than if we had just read the entire book as a whole and gathered to discuss it for one two-hour session. We were all genuinely fascinated with the science history behind each story, even if it was tangential to the actual theme or purpose of the story. The person doing the talk enjoyed the independent research that went into it and the chance to share that information with the rest of the group. Although we were all very well educated people, most of information we learned in these casual talks was fresh and new. When it came time to discuss each story as a literary work, we had no problem maintaining a lively discussion on a single story for 45 minutes.

If your book group has time to give this format a chance, you might find that it significantly enhances your enjoyment for this particular collection of stories.
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on August 12, 2003
It seems to me that the style of these short stories are indicative of the approach that natural scientists take to their work. It is patient and reflective. It doesn't force its subject into action. It observes the truth. I personally never had the patience to be a scientist, but I understand and respect the scientific mind. I read this book a little at a time (which I think is the proper way to read short stories). Even the tragic stories, such as the title story Ship Fever, left me with a sense that I had shared the characters experience in an oddly detached way. I can only compare it to reading an ancestor's personal diary, feeling that by being related to the person I somehow was affected by it all. So my recommendation is that if you enjoy science as well as literature and you take the time to absorb the stories rather than cram them, you will enjoy this collection.
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on October 10, 2000
I'm in complete agreement with the reviewers who pronounced this to be an uneven work. I think Ms Barrett is actually strongest with the stories that deal more with the gifted amateurs than with the professional scientists. "Rare Bird" and "Ship Fever" itself were the strongest pieces, and the only ones that I had a real emotional response to (for me the novella in particular since my great-great-great grandmother was one of the thousands who perished in sight of land in the Gulf of St. Lawrence). I also agree that the "Marberg Sisters" in particular was quite poor. Still, one must applaud a writer who dares to venture out beyond suburban angst, and since her writing is stylish throughout (no matter what the merits of a particular piece) I would enjoy reading a more extended work from her.
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on February 6, 2000
Andrea Barrett's "Ship Fever and Other Stories" is such a rare literary treasure you'd want to take your time tasting and savouring every morsel of delight these vignettes release. Barrett draws upon her expert knowledge of nature, history and the sciences to create a fascinating subtext over which the private lives and heroic struggles of men and women of science are interwoven and told. The stories are not all of equal or impeccable quality. "Ship Fever" is the most outstanding, though others like "The Littorol Zone", "Rare Bird" and "The Behaviour of the Hawkweeds" are also truly excellent. Even the mediocre ones like "Soroche" come laden with such a generous dose of human interest you overlook their weaknesses. Barrett may write about scientists, but not as a breed apart. Her characters are multifacted and always interesting. They live, love and fight just like the rest of us. Through these stories, Barrett exposes the hypocrisy and double standards that dog women and scientists in 19th Century society. Sexual politics, the relevance and responsibility of men of science and their contribution to public good are common themes that recur throughout. Barrett's beautifully judged and precise prose is strangely evocative, like the lingering fragrance of bouquet from good wine. Reading this book is such a pleasurable experience you don't want it to end. "Ship Fever and Other Stories" is a great literary achievement and truly deserving of the National Book Award. Don't miss it !
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on August 10, 2003
Andrea Barret has to be a genius. The eight stories are laced together with fascinating science and solid historical fact but each takes off in entirely different directions in her fabulous imagination. She is a gifted storyteller, there is plenty of suspense to keep the reader turning the page. Yet, there is the learning and wisom that only a true genius, a born writer, can impart.
I flipped through the book with a group of friends and read aloud the opening sentence to a few of the stories. The stories are captivating from the first line.
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