- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reissue edition (May 30, 1984)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316713902
- ISBN-13: 978-0316713900
- Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.4 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 87 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #555,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ship of Fools Paperback – May 30, 1984
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From the Back Cover
The title of this book is a translation from the German of Das Narrenschiff, a moral allegory by Sebastian Brant. The author read it in Basel in the summer of 1932 when she had still vividly in mind the impressions of her fist voyage to Europe. She took for her own this simple almost universal image of the ship of this world on its voyage to eternity.
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The book's strength resides in the various mind-sets of its eclectic group of passengers. While they come from different backgrounds, different professions, and different places, they all posses that common human trait that becomes readily apparent when diversity is forced upon individuals for prolonged periods of time: pride, in all of its sad manifestations.
There is no escaping the foolishness that pride brings to every passenger. Each passenger cannot avoid seeing themselves in the true light of their own beliefs and their actions are consequently foolish to all but the actor (and those of similar minds). Themes of patriotism and xenophobia are explored alongside more typical human faults such as jealousy, envy, and greed. And while Katherine Porter spares her readers from being judged, the personal guilt of the reader is only a thought away from each foolish act.
As the book progresses, however, this strength-of-theme also becomes its primary weakness. The effect of capturing the somewhat monotonous mood of weeks upon the ocean served to create a similar outlook for the book itself. It seemed to take weeks for both the voyage and the book to end.
Picture: The SS Werra (2), which was to be renamed the Vera by Porter.
No one on this boat can win due entirely to the absurdity of everyone's trained cultural opinions. It would be hysterically funny if it were not so often pathetic.
Porter's writing is masterful. She moves among her characters with grace, elevating them in your opinion only to send them crashing down based on the absurdity of perfectly common ways of thinking.
The German passenger-freighter Vera is crossing from Mexico to Germany, in 1931. With 48 1st-class passengers and 900 desperately poor Spaniards in steerage. Germans, Americans, Spaniards, a Swede and Mexicans make up the 1st-class, and Porter’s portrayal of the human condition is spectacular. Their prejudices, class differences, fierce nationalism and pride are dissected with skill - all while the Vera heads towards a Europe moving closer to World War Two. The huge character list, their reflections on their own life and the judgements against fellow passengers, and Porter’s powers of perception make this a fabulous read. So great!