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Ship of Fools

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,490 Ratings  ·  140 Reviews
The story takes place in the summer of 1931, on board a cruise ship bound for Germany. Passengers include a Spanish noblewoman, a drunken German lawyer, an American divorcee, a pair of Mexican Catholic priests. This ship of fools is a crucible of intense experience, out of which everyone emerges forever changed. Rich in incident, passion, and treachery, the novel explores ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published May 30th 1984 by Back Bay Books (first published 1962)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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May 10, 2007 Steven rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Katherine Anne Porter's powers of perception are so keen that she's the kind of person I would never want to have around as a friend. Everything would be stripped down in her gaze, leaving little room for cherished illusions.

The book captures this perfectly: She simultaneously depicts the short-comings of a world on the brink of World War II and scrutinizes those flaws that are endemic to all cultures and times. The meanness and arbitrary ways in which people subdivide who they consider equals a
Sep 18, 2012 Kenny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, classics
"The idea for Ship of Fools originated in a voyage that Katherine Anne Porter took from Mexico to Europe in 1931. Some of the passengers she encountered on the ship became the models for the characters in Ship of Fools. Porter began work on the novel in 1941 and it took her twenty years to complete." Said Porter of the voyage -- "We embarked on an old German ship at Vera Cruz and we landed in Bremen twenty-eight days later. It was a crowded ship, a great mixture of nationalities, religions, pol ...more
Mar 23, 2015 Erin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, arc-review
ARC for review - reissue.

This book is everything.

I understand that it's got an overall GR rating of 3.7, but this is also the type of book to be assigned in literature classes and it won't be for everyone (hey, even To Kill a Mockingbird has some one star ratings and I think that we, as a public, can agree that those people are crazy, right?). And I can understand why it might not appeal to some readers - it's long, it's old (published in 1962, but takes place in 1931), there are about a millio
Carol Storm
Mar 02, 2016 Carol Storm rated it it was amazing
I absolutely love this book! Katherine Anne Porter was a Southern writer who wrote tons of short stories with only one or two characters set in her own distinctive world, but in this epic novel she creates a huge cast of characters from all nationalities and races and shows all of their turbulent adventures aboard a cruise ship just before World War II.

What's so amazing about this book is that it explores one theme over and over, the idea that we can never really know anything about the people
Daniel Villines
Jan 26, 2016 Daniel Villines rated it liked it
Ship of Fools captures that time, long ago, when being at sea was a necessity. There was no other way to cross oceans and a voyage could take weeks to arrive at a final destination. And because of this need, the types of people that congregated in close quarters on board a ship at sea was diverse. Ship of Fools captures the mood and diversity of passengers at sea during this bygone era.

The book's strength resides in the various mind-sets of its eclectic group of passengers. While they come from
Larry Bassett
Jan 24, 2013 Larry Bassett rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
From the trailer of the 1965 movie: “There are many stories here but there is only one Ship of Fools.”

OK, I don’t know what “Quand nous partons vers la bonheur ?” means. So I am feeling stupid and I am not even on page one yet. Any translators out there?

We meet many of the characters fairly quickly. They are a variety thrown aboard a ship on a month long voyage across the Atlantic to Germany from Mexico. There is the normal shipboard class division from First to Steerage but there are dynamic di
Jan 25, 2011 Anne rated it it was amazing
Such elegant savagery! Set on a cruise ship traveling from Mexico to Germany in the early 1930s. An enviably seamless omniscient narrator carries us through this meticulous study of human frailties. It's an ensemble book, too--a rare feat: no single protagonist--and it works. (This was given to me as a masterwork to contemplate as I revise my own, far poorer, fleet of vices.) The book takes its time without lagging, painstakingly rising to violence--every kind of subtle violence.

I found Porter's
Mar 22, 2009 James rated it really liked it
Shelves: lplib-classics
Ship of Fools, a novel by Katherine Anne Porter, was published in 1962 on April 1 (April Fools' Day). It is the tale of a group of disparate characters, from several different countries and backgrounds, who sail from Mexico to Germany aboard a mixed freighter and passenger ship. In her note prefacing the novel Porter notes that :

When I began thinking about my novel, I took for my own this simple almost universal image of the ship of this world on its voyage to eternity. It is by no means new --
Apr 06, 2015 Antoinette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Copy of book courtesy of Net Galley for an honest review.
A masterful novel that cannot be rushed through. The novel takes place in 1931 on an ocean liner sailing from Mexico to Germany. On board, we have an eclectic group of people- Germans, Americans, Spaniards, Cubans, Swiss and 1 Swede.Throughout the book, I felt like an invisible bystander- I, with the author, moved from one group to another, eavesdropping on their conversations. The author spares no one in this aptly titled "Ship of Fools".
Bello. Mi è piaciuto. La quarta stella se l’è giocata per alcune ripetizioni, che alla lunga stancano, e per una certa atmosfera che sa, nel fondo, un pochino di soap opera. Ma nell’insieme è arguto, amaro, profondamente ironico e talvolta apertamente comico.

Non esistono “giusti” da caricare su un’arca, neppure su una tanto scalcagnata quanto la motonave “Vera”, né, tantomeno, arche che possano portare in salvo chicchessia. La sconfitta di Dio è evidente e l’imbecillità degli uomini altrettanto
This novel almost requires a cast list to keep track of all the 'fools' on the ocean liner the Vera which sailing from Mexico to Germany. On board are a very mixed bag of travelers, all returning to Europe in search of something they are missing in their lives or to get away from past mistakes or simply to reunite with loved ones. There are merchants, academics, businessmen, artists, entire families, dancers and even soft-core prostitutes among the passengers in the first class section. Add to t ...more
Jul 08, 2012 Bibliophile rated it liked it
People aren't really this bad, are they? Perhaps I should read this again when feeling perfectly content and at peace with the world. Now was apparently not the right time. I wasn't able to empathize with the miserable lives of these petty, bigoted characters. The relentless misery weighed me down to the point where I couldn't even enjoy the beautiful writing, and just wanted to throw myself overboard. Oh, and I remembered Betty Draper reading this book in an episode of Mad Men. Poor Betty, no w ...more
Moira Downey
Sep 19, 2014 Moira Downey rated it really liked it
Shelves: bookclub
I think the four stars is possibly more enthusiasm than I actually possess, but I did like it more than not. Certainly, it's long and lacks a propulsive narrative, but it's also so well written and such an interestingly textured read (Porter has, for example, such a keen eye for the grotesqueries of human nature, both spiritual and bodily), that I found it more compelling than I might otherwise have.
May 23, 2016 Joseph rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english
The forced relationships of trans-Atlantic passengers on a German ship from Mexico to Germany, in the early 1930s when the Nazis were about to seize power and had already summoned forth their demons from the small minds of their many followers. There's a mix of mostly German, a few Americans, and some Cubans and Spanish. Porter exposes all of the vicious petty class hatreds of the first class passengers and the captain, towards the steerage passengers, and also towards each other, as they obsess ...more
Jul 29, 2015 Mandy rated it it was ok
In 1931 a disparate group of travellers sail to Europe on a German passenger ship, amongst them Americans, German, Mexicans and many other nationalities. Each one of them hopes to be sailing towards a better and brighter future, but they are of course, quite unwittingly, sailing towards a Europe that will shortly explode into war and mayhem and only disappointment and disillusion await them. Perhaps they deserve it. The title, from the medieval allegory, about a vessel without a pilot and with o ...more
Sep 30, 2008 KathyC rated it liked it
I didn't really like this book but kept reading anyway because of Porter's relentless character detail and her staunch refusal to add any redeeming qualities to her characters as the book progressed. The Fellini-esque setting and portrayals also drew me along. (If there were a movie version, costume design would be great fun.) Anyway, I trudged through resolutely until just before the end, when I simply couldn't take any more. I give it three stars, though, for stellar writing and (painfully) as ...more
Aug 06, 2015 Liviu rated it it was amazing
another novel I read many (30 or so) years ago and I quite liked at the time though I now remember it very vaguely - just saw it as a recommendation somewhere and it's definitely a semi-classic that is worth checking out
Apr 27, 2014 Christopher rated it liked it
More like a 3.5. I guess. I will figure out how I feel about it at some point.

On the one hand, it is beautifully written on a sentence level and Porter has a keen, perceptive eye that she brings to her characters. And Germany/Germans in the inter-war period, the focal point here, is endlessly fertile/terrifying ground.

On the other hand, it is a slog. There is not much of a plot to speak of. And the characters are almost all so repellant that 200 pages in you are still trying to differentiate th
Mar 05, 2013 Ursula rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
The year is 1931, and the action of the book takes place on or within sight of the Vera, a ship departing from Veracruz, Mexico for Europe, with its ultimate destination being Bremerhaven, Germany. The majority of the upper-deck passengers are German, as is the crew, and we follow along with quite a number of the people aboard. Among the Germans, we have an alcoholic professor and his long-suffering wife, a timid woman recently widowed (she is returning to Germany with her husband's body, in fac ...more
„I Have Seen All This Before, Over and Over, Only Never Until Now Did I See It on a Ship.”

Dr. Schumann’s resigned words make it quite clear that Katherine Anne Porter’s famous novel “Ship of Fools” is not really about people on board a ship in the year 1931, but about our involuntary voyage through life – all the more so as the ship’s name is Vera.

Writing this novel took twenty years of Porter’s life, from 1940 to 1960/61, which is reflected to a certain extent in the episodical character of the
Jun 17, 2009 Kay rated it it was amazing
This truly is a masterpiece. The writing is so exceptional that you find yourself pausing and rereading a sentence.
Aug 08, 2015 Bryan rated it it was ok
Katherine Anne Porter's SHIP OF FOOLS began as a journal--the author herself took a trip in 1931 similar to that described in the book, by boat from Veracruz to Bremmerhaven, and the characters are based on the people she met. Yet Porter was not satisfied with the book, and continued to revise it until finally publishing it in 1962. It tells the story of a large cast of characters who find themselves thrown together on a passenger ship from Mexico to Germany--a cast of characters who do not part ...more
Timothy Juhl
Oct 11, 2014 Timothy Juhl rated it really liked it
Weighing in at a hefty 497 pages of small print, Porter's novel about a group of passengers traveling from Mexico to Germany, is not an easy read. Though it was written in 1962, the language is elevated, but Porter's deft hand with description and narrative kept me reading (that, and I think one owes it to one's self to read a classic every now and again). The era for the story is often muddled and only once is there any indication these passengers are heading to a pre-WWII Germany, which makes ...more
Jan 30, 2014 Joel rated it it was amazing
A novel which takes place on an ocean liner en route from Mexico to Germany in 1931, focusing on the first-class passengers. They're a motley assortment of Germans, Americans, Spaniards, Cubans, Mexicans, Swiss, and one Swede; the largest group being the Germans. By throwing together several dozen strangers, in a situation where they're forced to remain in each other's company- mostly in idle boredom- for weeks, Porter is able to use the ship as a crucible to examine human behavior and interacti ...more
Oct 18, 2010 Gwenyth rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 25, 2011 Myles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
A novel that took her over twenty years to write, Ship of Fools is a large sprawling thing with many characters (you will be grateful for the passenger manifest at the begining) and a grand ambition to illustrate the world in the early 1930s in the form of a group of people on an ocean liner en route to Germany from Veracruz.

All of the people on board are guilty, with the possible exception of the mostly faceless, nameless people in steerage. But even they allow themselves to be herded from one
Virgilio Machado
O título deste livro é a tradução do alemão Das Narrenschiff, alegoria moral de Sebastian Brant (1458?-1521) publicada pela primeira vez em latim sob o título Stultifera Navis em 1494. Li-a em Basileia no Verão de 1932, quando ainda tinha bem vívidas na memória as impressões da minha primeira viagem à Europa. Quando comecei a pensar no meu romance, apropriei-me dessa imagem simples e quase universal da nave do mundo na sua jornada para a Eternidade. Não tem ela nada de novo, pois já era bastante ...more
Donna LaValley
Jun 18, 2011 Donna LaValley rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorite
This is one of those books that gets better in your mind after you've read it. Without reading serious critiques to go by, I think her purpose in writing Ship of Fools was to try to explain how the German people could eventually accept Hitler and his Reich. On this ship, the reader experiences the voyage from the thoughts of many of the passengers, the majority of them German. The Captain and the destination are German. There are Americans, "gypsies," a Jew, and misc. other nationalities, and cl ...more
Debby Dietrich
Feb 19, 2016 Debby Dietrich rated it it was ok
I don't like books in which every character is unpleasant in their own way. Ms Porter has a terrible opinion of the human race, and over half way through the book I said enough is enough. The book is interesting in that it gives some insight into the antisemitic feelings of many Germans in the days leading up to the Nazi takeover of Germany. It is well written, but Porter's take on the human condition is so overwhelmingly negative that I finally said, enough is enough. Poor Bébé, that was the la ...more
Christine Sinclair
Feb 06, 2016 Christine Sinclair rated it really liked it
It might seem like a simple story, the trials and tribulations of the passengers (and crew) on a ship traveling from Mexico to Germany in 1931. But it is much more than that. Porter's book delves into many troublesome issues: anti-Semitism, loneliness, violence, poverty, sexuality, relationships and moral self-doubt. The feelings of the characters are so clearly described that you almost feel them yourself, the true indicator to me of good writing. However, I found the anti-Semitism of many of t ...more
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unfairly neglected? 8 15 Feb 05, 2014 12:38PM  
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Katherine Anne Porter was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. She is known for her penetrating insight; her works deal with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil.
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“Could she fall so low? No, there were limits, and she believed she still knew where some of them were.” 18 likes
“People can't hear anything except when it's nonsense. Then they hear every word. If you try to talk sense, they think you don't mean it, or don't know anything anyway, or it's not true, or it's against religion, or it's not what they are used to reading in the newspapers...” 6 likes
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