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The Ordinary Seaman Hardcover – February, 1997

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A voyage of the damned, albeit on a ship that never sails, is the framing concept of this powerful narrative. Fifteen desperate men lured from Central America by the promise of work aboard a freighter find themselves trapped on a rusting, rat- and roach-infested hulk without plumbing, heat or electricity, abandoned at an isolated Brooklyn pier. Placated by the promise that they will eventually be paid, the crew work for six months under horrifying conditions: half starved, filthy, sick and humiliated, they're victims of their own poverty and the chicanery of others. Goldman shapes his story through the tales?often ribald and laced with Spanish vernacular?the characters tell to make their ordeal bearable. He focuses on Esteban Gaitan, at 19 already a haunted shadow, tortured by flashbacks to his experiences as a Sandinista guerrilla and by the death in combat of his young lover. Initially, the rambling tales and discursions impede the narrative's forward movement, but gradually, the stories accumulate and resolve into a searing picture of human vulnerability and courage. When Esteban surreptitiously leaves the ship and prowls the ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn in search of food and succor, the story opens out and presents a fascinating picture of a corner of America as seen through unsophisticated eyes. While this is surely a saga of betrayal and exploitation, Goldman maintains a note of cautious optimism about the resourcefulness of men pushed to the brink of despair, and about the determined search for both love and new life in a difficult new land. Goldman won the Sue Kaufman Prize for first fiction for The Long Night of White Chickens. This novel, inspired by an actual incident, should establish him securely on the literary map. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Goldman's second novel (following Long Night of White Chickens, LJ 6/1/92) is a tightly woven tapestry of the lives of 15 Central American men brought to New York to rehabilitate an aging cargo ship and then abandoned to winter's vicissitudes by its unscrupulous owners. The story focuses on young Esteban, a former Sandinista guerrilla whose past life included a melodramatic love affair with a doomed fellow guerrilla, and Bernardo, a ne'er-do-well older waiter whose family has broken contact with him and who dreams of regaining their faith through his schemes. Marooned in Brooklyn harbor aboard their "ghost" ship, the men forage for food, stealing when necessary. Only Esteban and Bernardo escape, the former through the redeeming affections of a local manicurist, the latter in a grisly death in a Manhattan emergency room. Though the situation is not for everyone, Goldman's powerfully charged writing brilliantly limns this allegory of immigration and abandonment. For all collections.
-?Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 387 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press; 1st edition (February 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871136716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871136718
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,556,923 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Francisco Goldman's (b.1955) second novel, "The Ordinary Seaman" has been described as a modern parable of America's hidden immigrant culture. Son of a Jewish American father and Catholic Guatemalan mother, Goldman populates his fiction with characters who serve as projections of a self that is culturally divided. "TOS" is essentially a story about liminality: that space, like the sea itself, where one's perceptions or situation blends with, or crosses over into, perceptions or situations of others.

The novel centers upon Esteban, a nineteen-year-old Nicaraguan between adolescence and manhood, communism and capitalism, first and second love. An ex-Sandinista guerrilla, he signs on as a sailor without seaman's papers and is transported, with a makeshift crew of fourteen other desperate Centroamericanos from varied backgrounds, to the urban jungle of a remote pier in a desolate Brooklyn shipyard. Abandoned, in political, legal, and personal limbo, they become virtual prisoners on a ship that never sails, the broken-down, rat-infested Urus. A cavernous freighter crippled by fire damage, stripped for parts, and lacking even the most basic provisions for human habitation, this vessel becomes a deathtrap.

A "greenhorn" undergoing a rite of passage, Esteban had been encouraged by a surrogate father-figure to jump ship in a foreign to escape a magalomanic captain with no regard for his ship or crew, beyond their usefulness. Goldman uses the uniquely privileged position of the sea captain to illustrate the corrosive effects of unbridled egoism, not merely skewing the moral compass but jeopardizing life itself.
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Format: Paperback
I found this book in the remainder pile. Talk about a diamond in the rough. This is an unusual story of seamen stranded on a ship that is delayed leaving port. They are doomed to remain on-board because they have immigration problems and can't wander the streets of New York without risking being picked up by the INS. The "owners" of the ship keep them working at repairing the rusting heap until one brave seamen grows tired of the on-board squabbling and the failure of the recalcitrant owners to show up with food and even the most meager of everyday necessities. Overcoming his fear he strikes out, creating a life of his own, risking the dangers of the streets and incarceration to find love as well as food and income, most of which he returns to his crewmates, most of whom are surprised to find he is leaving the ship at night. The characters were rich and individualistic, the settings alive with texture, and the depth of writing to be envied. What a gem this book turned out to be.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very fine novel. The plot is tightly woven; the writing is crisp and even, sprightly, occasionally darkly humorous, and always interesting. Its characters are fascinating portraits drawn on a carefully crafted palette.
Mr. Goldman has done a truly remarkable job and this work should be widely read. His story line, the travails of a desperate group of dirt-poor Nicaraguans, is dispensed in calculated doses. I learned just enough about each helpless participant that I was always felt tuned for more information. Mr. Goldman links the civil war so carefully into his novel that it never intrudes, instead it adds constant, new dimensions. While seemingly effortless, the author's construction is beautifully coordinated.
Masterful blending of each character yields an astonishing, cleaver plot. Although Estaban appears to be the protagonist, he is always balanced and never intrudes on the whole. He acts much like the anchor line of the Urus, the ill-fated boat, which itself appears to be Mr. Goldman allegory of life. Or is this simply too much a stretch, beyond the author's intentions? I think not. Mr. Goldman succeeds where so many others fail; this is a terrific, powerful, carefully crafted, interesting novel.
At first I was distracted by the colloquial Spanish Mr. Goldman includes in dialogue and descriptions. It was a trial for my two years of college training. I soon understood many of the words, much of them if only from the situations described. In time they became actually pleasurable and added to the authenticity. I think this is a remarkable feat and the author deserves to be congratulated on his successful technique.
I do not read books to find faults. However, sometimes they appear as deficiencies that distract from the effects authors set out to achieve. In Mr. Goldman's cases there are none. This book is a fine effort and very interesting, well worth the time spent reading, and it is highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
El Salvador's recent history, their civil war, should not fade away quite so quickly. It was evil. This book reflects on it through a character who is original, believable, and sorrowful. Post traumatic stress sliced open down to the exact scenes he is recalling as he steals food for the conned crew of central americans stuck on a boat that can't leave the Brooklyn Harbor. Stalled dreams, pushed off the track by war. Read it. Supposedly, it really happened. Came from a newspaper article Goldman saw. He explains it in the epilogue.
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By yankee-in-ca on December 18, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm a baby-boomer preparing for my own first book tour, and if anyone asks me to name the book I enjoyed the most in my now rather long reading life, this is it. I was prepared to get very upset if I didn't find out what happened to the ship's owners towards the end, but yes, you find out. A ripping good yarn. The best possible read. The publicity for this novel must have been dreadful!
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