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Ship of Fools

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,273 ratings  ·  109 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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Steven
May 10, 2007 Steven rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
...more
Kenny
"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
Erin
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
...more
Arwen56
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
...more
Larry Bassett
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
...more
James
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 --
...more
Antoinette
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".
...more
Marty
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
Anne
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
...more
Moira Downey
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.
Christopher
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
...more
Ursula
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
Tristram
„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
...more
KathyC
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
Bibliophile
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
Bryan
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
Joel
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
Timothy Juhl
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
Kay
This truly is a masterpiece. The writing is so exceptional that you find yourself pausing and rereading a sentence.
Gwenyth
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Myles
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
...more
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
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
Chris Gager
Just started last night. So far, so good. She seems to be a pretty good writer. My only previous reading has been a short story or two. I saw the movie many years ago and am intrigued at how Hollywood made "certain changes". The Lee Marvin character is not in the book literally but is there in much different form. No doubt the number of characters was reduced to a more manageable number as well. Now I'm well into the second half. It's not a good idea to read this book without close attention. Lo ...more
Michael David
I never think that any book is better simply because it’s longer: there are sparse, simple masterpieces and there are also lengthy tirades of futility. The Bridge over the River Kwai is an example of the former; Finnegans Wake is an example of the latter. I have simply learned that the length of a book does not presuppose its quality. Sometimes, simplicity is optimal.

That’s mainly my problem with Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools: the novel could have been written in 150 pages with little lo
...more
Sally
I had been looking forward to reading Ship of Fools for quite some time. However, it's not a book I would recommend. The voyage is interminable and the characters are all fools--racist, sexist, fascist, with great condescension for those not of their social class or country of origin. Perhaps in 1945 the novel made more of an impression, but Upton Sinclair in the Lanny Budd series covered it more fully and much earlier.
Sarah Sammis
Katherine Anne Porter's long novel Ship of Fools modernizes the old Christian allegory to trace the roots of Nazism. It doesn't take more than 100 pages to understand the point of the book, it continues on for 400 pages as the ship slowly makes its way from Argentina to Europe.

Porter took her inspiration for the novel from her first sea voyage from Mexico to Germany. She took the trip in 1931 and wrote a long letter describing her fellow passengers with the hope of turning it into a short story
...more
Melanie
I have 2 favorite books. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fizgerald and this one. Ship of fools is amazing. With the exception of perhaps the ship's doctor.. No one is a likeable perosn but all are rich, amazing characters. The tension and superiority of the Germans prior to WWII is foretelling of what is to come but doesnt dominate the book. I enjoyed every single page and will reread many times. Enjoy!!!
Jay Cardam
Feb 04, 2014 Jay Cardam rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jay by: The movie version
Shelves: favorites
What a cast of characters! I was a teenager when the movie came out, falling instantly in love with Simone Signoret...I had to have the book and read it shortly thereafter. It is the book that introduced me to Katherine Anne Porter ...and I devoured her writings and bios about her. Over the following decades I have returned to read both this and some of her short fiction. She remains one of my favorites.
Richard Jespers
I’m not sure I grasp the “importance” of the novel. Is it truly an allegory? The work seems unwieldy with regard to its large cast of characters and uneven in quality. [I later read that she wrote the novel over many years, a fact that might account for either of these problems.] Porters short stories are pristine, however; no mistaking that.
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unfairly neglected? 8 14 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.
See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherin...
More about Katherine Anne Porter...
The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter Pale Horse, Pale Rider Flowering Judas The Old Order: Stories of the South Noon Wine

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“Could she fall so low? No, there were limits, and she believed she still knew where some of them were.” 16 likes
“Mrs. Treadwell moved away again, from the threat of human nearness, of feeling. If she stayed to listen, she knew she would weaken little by little, she would warm up in spite of herself, perhaps in the end identify herself with the other, take on his griefs and wrongs, and if it came to that, feel finally guilty as if she herself had caused them; yes, and he would believe it too, and blame her freely. It had happened too often, could she not learn at last? All of it was no good, neither for confidant nor listener. There was no cure, no comfort, tears change nothing and words can never get at the truth. No, don't tell me any more about yourself, I am not listening, you cannot force my attention. I don't want to know you, and I will not know you. Don't try to come nearer.” 5 likes
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