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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but not Traven's best
This novel begins as an almost-humorous tale of a man trapped in a bureaucratic web, then advances to an adventure on the high seas. A U.S. merchant sailor finds himself stranded in 1920's Europe without a passport or his seaman's card after his ship leaves without him (his documents are aboard the ship). Without his ID he finds himself an outcast, an unwelcome vagabond...
Published on March 13, 2005 by K.A.Goldberg

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars It never seems to be able to decide what it wants to be
There are quite a few things going in favor of this novel: it's funny, it doesn't romanticize the life of a high-seas sailor, it has a playfully Kafkaesque view of governments and bureaucracy, and it has touches of the bizarre-absurd that are entertaining.

What the novel lacks, however, is a character - at least a human character; the Yorkiee is more fully...
Published 7 months ago by Dan Harlow


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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, but not Traven's best, March 13, 2005
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
This novel begins as an almost-humorous tale of a man trapped in a bureaucratic web, then advances to an adventure on the high seas. A U.S. merchant sailor finds himself stranded in 1920's Europe without a passport or his seaman's card after his ship leaves without him (his documents are aboard the ship). Without his ID he finds himself an outcast, an unwelcome vagabond that ships won't hire, nations don't want, and whom U.S. Consuls brush off. Broke, stranded and desperate, he eventually finds work aboard the Yorikke. That vessel is called a death ship for its dangerous hard work, meager pay, and atrocious conditions. Our hero can only hope that the Yorikke will eventually set anchor in a U.S. port - but that could take months or years. There is a certain Franz Kafka/Twilight Zone quality to this story of a little man trapped by an unfair system. I felt the novel story got better in the second half, as our friend adjusts to his difficult situation only to find himself in great danger.

Chicago-born author B. Traven (1890-1969) lived secretly, wrote readable prose, and didn't hide his contempt for the effects of government rules and unregulated capitalism on ordinary people. This story doesn't match his TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, but it makes for a solid read.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great forgotten classics of the century, August 23, 1998
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
B. Traven is unquestionably one of the most fascinating writers of the 20th century. For decades nothing was known about him except rumor, and his exact identity was shrouded in confusion and mystery. It was not even known for certain what language he wrote in (it turned out to be German). When John Huston was making the film version of Traven's THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, Traven declined to visit the set, sending a friend instead. After Traven's death the first known photos of Traven were made public, and Huston recognized Traven as the so-called friend, who was using yet another of his many aliases (of which B. Traven was but one). Anyone interested in learning more about the man who was the most mysterious author of the century should consult Wyatt's THE SECRET OF SIERRA MADRE: THE MAN WHO WAS B. TRAVEN.
THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE is a classic, but this novel may be even better. A man without a passport, a crime in post WW I Europe, is forced to take a job on an ancient steamer (the narrator suggests it was old when the Greeks and Romans ruled the Mediterranean). The result is a nightmarish descent into hell and one of the most unforgetable masterpieces of the century.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A VERY STRANGE STORY, January 10, 2000
By 
David P. Burton (Coxsackie, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
Imagine your very worst nightmare; you have lost absolutely all references to your identity and are displaced thousands of miles from any contact with anyone who would be able to positively identify you. Since you are sort of a drifter to begin with, your problem is compounded. You have no money. You are kicked out of a few countries, decide that life is just too good for you in another country and that moreover you long to return to work at your profession, that of a sailor. A weird ship takes you on and now you can't get off it.
This a story the likes of which you will probably never come across again. It is weird, the writing is vivid, and you become the doomed sailor reading it. You might not think the story the best you've ever read, hardly so, but you certainly wont long forget this one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A definitive narrative of the triumph of human will, April 17, 2004
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
Manual labor. That's what I think of most of all when I think of B. Traven's The Death Ship. I actually read the majority of this book during break periods while working a manual labor job. Every time that my bones ached, I thought about the horrors of the Death Ship and the determinism in the face of certain doom; a real man is measured by his will and his strength.
B. Traven's prose is terrific, unpretensious, and profound. The Death ship tells the story of an American salior who becomes an outcast in a world indifferent to the circumstances of the little people. The crew of the ship, facing the possibility of death, starvation, and reside in squalid living conditions, show more humanity and honor than any pencil pusher behind a desk whose power and influences have condemned the honest man to a life of torture; they no longer fear hell, but at the same time, they embrace their situations with a fortitude that expresses a savage peotry. This novel is not to be missed by anyone that considers themselves serious about literature.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic -- one of a kind!, April 25, 2000
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This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
Just finished reading this book for the third time. Traven's writing style is clear, harsh and as vivid as fireworks. You can feel sparks fly off every page. Man, I wish I could write even half as well as he does. If you ever want to feel as angry as an anarchist over the human injustice in this world, read this book. Plus it's a great story. I can't do it justice.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mysterious B. Traven's Best Work!, October 10, 2000
By 
C. Magill "clyde-o" (knoxville, TN United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
I first read "Government" by B. Traven and was very impressed. Then the same friend that gave me that book said to buy this one. I didn't think Traven could do better but this book was it. His storytelling is some of the best ever. From the descriptions of border crossing tribulations to the weird snake dance to get past a steaming pipe and to eating the rations off a marooned ship Traven does well. Unfortunately, but amazingly you can almost smell the disgusting bowels of the death ship because it is so well written. No movie could even do justice to this book as Traven helps you see, feel, smell and taste the experience. Supremo!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Good Sailor Schweik..., June 15, 2009
By 
Giordano Bruno (Here, There, and Everywhere) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
... as acted by Humphrey Bogart, in a hypothetical film based on the 1926 novel The Death Ship, written in buffo German by Ludwig von Mises and translated into bobo English by Raymond Chandler, or vice versa, in either case under the pseudonymn B. Traven!

The narrator, who forgets his many names as quickly as he coins them, sails from New Orleans and finds himself stranded in Belgium without passport, seaman's card, or money. He is either a simpleton or a very satirical fellow, not unlike Jaroslav Hasek's `Good Soldier Svejk' or Mark Twain's `Connecticutt Yankee.' He's no "communist" in any case, though his loyalties and sympathies are all for the working class underdog. Not quite optimistic enough about human nature to be a solid anarchist, either! Certainly not a capitalist, since his dislike for authority of any kind extends to owners and bosses as well as police and bureaucrats! He portrays himself as an American, and a bit of a chauvinist at that, but his only real loyalty and admiration is reserved for himself as an autonomous piece of flotsam in a sea of greed and stupidity. Whether B. Traven was really German, American, or Martian, his character in The Death Ship is an American archetype, the loner, the frontier nihilist, the "ornery cuss" with a grudge against the world.

Dumped by the bureaucrats - police, customs officers, judges, consuls - from Belgium to Netherlands to France to Spain, our sailor survives from comic mishap to mishap. Eventually, though life in Spain is almost tolerable, he makes the fatal error of taking a berth on a ship that he has already described as the most desolate, grimy, forlorn hulk on the seas. It's a `death ship' in his vision, a ship sent out to sink with all hands so that the owners can collect insurance. On the ship, the Yorikke, our sailor is known as Pippip.

The resuscitation of Herman Melville was just beginning in the 1920s, but it would be hard to convince me that Traven did not intentionally construct The Death Ship as an inverse Pequod, or "Moby Dick Meets The Hairy Ape." The parallels in the two novels are blatant. The first third of each recounts the narrator's peculiar misanthropic activities on land. Once the narrator is aboard his ship, despite auguries of ill, he begins to expound the lore of the sea, but whereas the Pequod sails through the silent grandeur to the starlit mid-Pacific, the Yorikke chugs through scuddy squalls off Africa, its filthy coal-fired boilers belching a pall of industrial misery. While the Pequod harvests "light" in the form of whale-oil, the Yorikke sows darkness in smuggled guns. In both novels, the narrator forms an unlikely friendship, which will temper his misanthropy and which will lead to his physical salvation. Both fictional ships sink with all hands except the narrator, who is left floating on jetsam. And, to put it bluntly, both novels will seem endlessly dull to anyone who isn't receptive to their speculative philosophical digressions.

The English version of the Death Ship appeared in 1934. No translator was identified; the supposition is that the author did it himself. I have both the English and the German texts, and surprisingly the English seems more fluent and stylish than the German. True, the English version has oddities, but they are all quite idiomatic. Whoever the author was, his range of allusions to American culture, history, and geography is vast, and almost too idiosyncratic to be the work of a `furriner.' The German has been rightly described as crude in syntax. So the mystery persists... who was B. Traven?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Crazy Genius, July 12, 2008
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
I began reading "The Death Ship" after I had already read just about every biography about the author. I was prepared to dislike the book, because I didn't like the author. As I read the book I heard the rantings of the crazed author at the beginning when the protagonist Gales complains for several chapters at the treatment he receives because he doesn't have any papers. This is consistent with the sort of letters the author wrote to his editor about the hardships he endured when he first settled in Mexico. The author told many stories about who he was and I believe the Will Wyatt biography does a good job of uncovering the truth, but Gales echoes the author's refusal to give any kind of proof in his claims to be an American. Because he won't provide proof he cannot get papers. The author was imprisoned in England and was interrogated and Wyatt believes they eventually got the truth from him when he finally admits his real name is Otto Feige a small town that now belongs to Poland. For much of the authors existence he tried to portray himself as an American just like Gales, but like Gales he refuses to give anyone any proof of his claims. I read the book feeling impatient with the diatribes against government and employers. But then the author moves to the death ship. The writing style changes. He isn't trying to prove he is an American when he writes this. He doesn't pepper his prose with an over abundance of American colloquialisms and he begins to describe hell. The intensity and the passion make you forget the author and draws you into the deepest darkest scariest loneliest place that you can imagine. He talks about the lose of his soul as he works to feed the flames of hell. He contemplates Hamlets dilemma, and I am amazed at the intensity of his writing. Baughmann, one of several B. Traven scholars believes there are two writers, and indeed I can see his reasoning. There is a core and depth to the writing that is not initially present. It is like the author descends beneath all the surface silly fussiness and craziness that is part of his every day life and goes to the heart of darkness that is part and embedded in every man. He explores the nightmare of our loneliness. Perhaps he describes it so well because he is forever an outsider keenly aware of his own oddity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Traven's best work, February 6, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
Forget "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." "The Death Ship" is B. Traven's best work. The conversational first person narrative draws the reader in immediately, and doesn't let go until the end. It reminds me of the writing style of "Papillon."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, January 6, 2006
This review is from: The Death Ship (Paperback)
As a real live "American Sailor" I really enjoyed this book. Traven must have sailed as amercahnt marine to have written a book so close to ship life. It was funny and sad at the same time. I take this book with me when I go to work and read once in my four month trip.
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The Death Ship
The Death Ship by Bruno Traven (Paperback - May 1, 2010)
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