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Ship of Fools

3.71 of 5 stars 3.71  ·  rating details  ·  1,207 ratings  ·  97 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 1945)
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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
"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
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
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
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
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 --
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
This truly is a masterpiece. The writing is so exceptional that you find yourself pausing and rereading a sentence.
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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
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
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
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.
Stephanie Ricker
Finishing Ship of Fools took me approximately an age. Porter is undeniably a talented writer, but never was a book so aptly named: every character in it was one kind of idiot or other. After 500 pages, I liked some of them even less than when I started. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to read it; if there isn’t at least one character with whom to sympathize, it’s difficult to care about what happens next. At the same time, however, I do recognize that her insights into human nature are extre ...more
This is a cast of characters that are unforgettable! An amazing,and eventful voyage! Katherine Anne Porter was a storyteller with a talent for description of people, places and things. As a reader I felt the tension of the passengers who were clearly at odds with one another, the love that others felt in their heart, the desires of those who were on board and what the consequences of those desires might be. This book was turned into an amazing movie that I will be sure to watch again! I really d ...more
Laura Waterman
Good writing slips by us when it is more than 25 years old and not part of a group of novels. Katherine Anne Porter is like Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird) in some ways. She gives this book everything she has and then we have to wait in vain for the next large work.

I was stunned by the film made from the book. It seemed a blasphemy in some parts but in others, it went beyond what I think Porter intended - and for the better.

I learned character development from reading Porter. I felt as if I k
A great book for its portrayal and development of a wide array of characters- totaling somewhere between 60 and 100- through their interactions with each other as they sail from Mexico to Germany in 1931. The book is rich in nuances of their interactions and interrelationships since it is written as a series of short sketches of their encounters with one another. KAP explores the paradox of what is said as well as left unsaid and thought. For those who enjoy plot, these 500 pages will move very ...more
This novel is an allegory representing discord in Europe in the 1930s leading up to WWII. It is long, complex, and has many characters – and thankfully a character list. The story takes place on the ship Vera as it sails from Veracruz, Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany, overloaded with a mismatched, dysfunctional, and diverse group of passengers. It’s well written, and has in depth characterization with interiority revealed by the omniscient narrator. Plot tension is adequate. That said, to me the ...more
As you start Ship of Fools you understand it's a book about people you don't want to meet; as you read Ship of Fools you realize these are people you already know, although hopefully not intimately: bigots, poseurs, liars....The story isn't so much a story as a series of scenes succeeding one another as choppily as the waves breaking against the titular ship, so the pace contrasts sharply with the idea of a smoothly flowing ocean voyage. That's a nice bit of irony. I like this novel but I don't ...more
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unfairly neglected? 8 12 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.” 13 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.” 3 likes
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