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The Ship of Fools

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Sex and power are dominant themes in this innovative novel by a major feminist writer, an exile from Uruguay now living in Spain. Her wandering hero refuses to conform to the established order that descends into military terror and machismo.

212 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1984

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About the author

Cristina Peri Rossi

116 books293 followers
Uruguayan novelist, poet, and author of short stories.

Considered a leading light of the post-1960s period of prominence of the Latin-American novel, she has written more than 37 works. She was born in Montevideo, Uruguay but was exiled in 1972, and moved to Spain, where she became a citizen in 1975. As of 2005[update] she lives in Barcelona, where she continues to write fiction and works as a journalist. She studied at the University of the Republic.

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5 stars
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65 (23%)
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20 (7%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews
Profile Image for Vladys Kovsky.
114 reviews27 followers
January 30, 2021
If one were to look for an appropriate classification for this book, it would be easy to find a label. Postmodernist fiction? Yes, certainly! Latin American magical realism? Of course! Feminist literature? Without a doubt! Yet, the book is not just any one of these and more than all of these at the same time. So, let's leave the classification attempts aside.

The book starts with a set of disjointed stories, episodes, journeys of the main protagonist Ecks. These journeys are loosely held together by a symbolic interpretation of the Tapestry of Creation, an actual piece of 11th century religious art on display in the Cathedral of Girona. Some of the stories are more engaging than others but all of them are filled with literary, historical and cultural references as well as with interesting observations and original aphorisms:

“We have all been exiled from something or someone. I think this is a human condition”
“there are journeys from which one cannot return”
“our days are no different from the past, except in the number of tyrants, their systematic methods and the cold logic with which they lead the world to madness”
“We know nothing about those we love, except our need for their presence”
“the essence of some stories lies precisely in this: they do not change, but remain like citadels or lighthouses facing the irresistible assault of time”

Just like the unchanging stories of the last quote, the characters in the book are static. They do move along, meet and part with other people, but they resist the assault of time, their inner worlds are well formed and are protected from external influences. If you primarily look for a character development in a book, look elsewhere. The story-line does develop though. The disjointed parts slowly come together and culminate in the part of the tapestry devoted to Eve. The story about subjugation of a woman starting from the myth of creation continuing on to our days is where the novel packs its strongest punch, strikes its hardest blow.

The ending is somewhat of a letdown, an anticlimax. Did I mention the numerous sexual scenes or references in the book? I did not. Well, Peri Rossi decides to deliver her ending there in a description of an act performed on stage. The setting is such but the message delivered is an answer to an old riddle: "What is the greatest tribute and homage a man can give to a woman he loves?" You might have guessed the answer, or you might have heard it elsewhere. In any case, I find it a bit at odds with the rest of the book, where us fools are taken on a journey of life, sailing in our ships only to be then abandoned at sea.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
39 reviews6 followers
June 8, 2015
The Ship of Fools follows a loose narrative centered around an exiled man (who is called Ecks in my translation, although his name in the original is Equis). Banished from his homeland, Ecks travels aimlessly, encountering some interesting characters along the way. He has a one night stand with an obese Scandinavian woman, takes up with a flighty intellectual beauty, and rendezvouses with a passenger on a ship. The allegory of "The Ship of Fools" is recounted as a modern tale, which is quite haunting. I had never heard of this allegory before, but given the turbulent political environment in South America in the mid-twentieth century, it is a fitting tale. Some of Ecks' friends are depicted as well, including his ginger-haired friend (who has a long and complicated name I can't remember) who is sent to a political concentration camp and Morris, who travels to a land of navel-gazers (surely a metaphor) and falls in love with a nine year-old boy. As the jacket cover stated, this IS a tale of sex and power, hard-hitting in spite of its mere 200 pages. The book is also filled with some memorable lines, including one about the local rapist, who (paraphrasing) "only rapes the tourists, out of respect to the locals." This book is a worthy read, especially if you have interest in Uruguayan or South American culture and history.
Profile Image for Ginny.
148 reviews
September 15, 2017
I found much of this novel intriguing and profound, using the exquisite Tapestry of Creation as a reference and a metaphor. http://www.catedraldegirona.org/visit...

It was definitely worth the read, but
Profile Image for Marc OAR.
19 reviews1 follower
December 4, 2021
Quizás no lo pillé en buen momento, pero se me ha hecho bastante duro y he estado varias veces a punto de dejarlo. Lo acabé por cabezonería y porque de vez en cuando tenía pasajes que prometían un cambio de rumbo (recordemos que es una nave).
Al principio de la novela, en una nota al pie, la autora duda entre llamar a su protagonista Horacio o Ulises, lo cuál es bastante premonitorio: en los peores momentos (a mi gusto) recuerda a Rayuela y a Cronopios, pero no me acaba de llegar este sentido del humor, ni la patafísica, ni la bohemia; en los mejores, el lenguaje adquiere protagonismo y recuerda al compatriota Felisberto, a Muerte en Venecia, a Henry Miller ("¿Qué hacían las mujeres cuando estaban tristes?¿Dónde ventilaban su melancolía?(...)¿Dónde eyaculan las mujeres?¿En qué culo se descargan?").
Curiosidad: parte de la novela transcurre en Mallorca, por donde se pasea el fantasma de Ramón Llull.
Profile Image for Thomas.
433 reviews61 followers
June 17, 2022
Very cool set of dreamlike vignettes loosely anchored by some recurring characters and themes. some very clever sections, some funny bits, references to borges, it's got all the stuff you want from your latin american books.
Profile Image for Rosie.
10 reviews40 followers
February 24, 2007
Too much to say and I have read it too long ago to give a proper review. The novel seemingly takes the form of a mosiac of travel vignettes, as the reader follows the protagonist, Equis, though various vague locales.
However, as the point of travel writing often is to provide a detailed view into a location, the essence of this novel is based on a contradiction. This sort of tension appears numerous times in the novel, especially in the sexuality of Peri Rossi's protagonists. We have no less than one ultra wise 12 year old boy, an old man who is the boy's love, and a protagonist that declares that there is "harmony in impotence."
The novel tackles feminism in Latin America (Peri Rossi is a female author from Uruguay), dictatorship, phallocentrism, and a bevy of other subjects taboo to her homeland at the time the novel was penned. However, Peri Rossi does not bash you over the head with these topics, instead she reveals them in her irreverant, dada-esque way. Read it.
Profile Image for Steven Hendrix.
44 reviews2 followers
December 3, 2018
Fascinating look at masculinity and power. Peri Rossi subverts common definitions, status quo thinking, and the novel form itself. She sheds light on some of the common results of toxic masculinity. Well worth the read.
Profile Image for Jamie Waters.
19 reviews2 followers
March 22, 2023
Themes of exile, journeys, and never going home intersect in an almost surreal and poetic piece
Profile Image for Ayla.
59 reviews
November 20, 2022
Nope! That wasn't it for me. Despite the occasional poetically beautiful sentence, this book really didn't sit well with me. I don't think I understood what the author wanted to do and I felt mostly uncomfortable, with recurring feelings of confusion and even disgust. Luckily, it was also a quick read.
Profile Image for José Arenas.
66 reviews5 followers
February 10, 2022
Una gran novela. La destrucción de la novela tradicional se hace laberinto poético en este texto.
Profile Image for Fred Cheyunski.
274 reviews6 followers
December 20, 2021
Literarily Clever and Socially Relevant - Looking for modern innovative Latin American/Hispanic women authors, I came across Cristina Peri Rossi and this title, her most well-known book. Intrigued by the cover art and the novel’s beginning and emphasis on journeys, I decided to give it a try. The decision turned about to fortuitous as Rossi’s work is quite a provocative and, for me, an enjoyable read. The story of Ecks, his travels, relationships with different places and people, men and women; those in charge and how one can take charge of one’s situation, with insight, as much as one can----to overcome the Plato Parable alluded to and the medieval version retold in the text.

The book’s contents consist of 21 chapters. Namely, there is Ecks: The Journey I and II, The Tapestry of Creation, Ecks III: Man is Woman’s Past; Journeys IV and V: The Story of Ecks. The rest of the chapters are other Journeys----VI: Some People Ecks Met in His Travels; VII Ecks and Dreams; VIII: Ship of Fools; IX: The Cement Factory; X: Life in Cities; XI: The Habits of Ecks; XII: The Fallen Angel; XIII: The Island; XIV: Pueblo de Dios; XV: Lost Paradise; XVI: Morris: A Journey to the Earth’s Navel; XVII: What Happened to Morris in Albion; XVIII: A Knight of the Holy Grail, EVE; XIX: London; XX: A White Ship; and XXI: The Enigma. Last comes information About the Translator and information from the publisher.

Among the aspects that stood out for me were the information about the book’s cover, the author’s offer of a game to amuse the reader, mention of different media, and literary figures. For instance, at first glance the cover brought to mind Picasso or de Kooning, but in the front matter one can learn the artist is Uruguayan (Joaquín Torres García) like the writer herself. Some ways into the text (in Kindle Location 406-13), Peri Rossi remarks “In his conversation and travel notes Ecks deliberately avoids naming the city of A. and other cities, apparently to escape offending anybody’s susceptibilities. . . the reader is invited to play a game to entertain himself . . . On . . . hints given . . . guess the identity of those alluded to.” A little later (Location 415) comes the observation that “Most of our entertainment comes from the past, even though complemented now by . . . sophisticated additions, such as guided missiles, joysticks, magnetic tapes and microchips.” Not much further (Location 418-22) there is the admission that “Unlike Don Quixote, whose author also fails to reveal the birthplace of his hero, it is almost impossible to trace the stages of Ecks’ journey on any map. . . another literary itinerary [is suggested], the one travelled by the gentleman with his enchanting Lolita.” In addition to Cervantes and Nabokov, Peri Rossi alludes to many short story writers and novelists that range from Borges to J.G. Ballard (see my reviews of “Labyrinths” and Lamberti’s “McLuhan Mosaic”). Moreover, she offers (Location 796-98) that “Taking advantage of the interest aroused, Ecks goes on to recommend . . . [a] list of carefully selected books which he can slip into the hands of the passenger enjoying a quick side glance at page 51 of his Tristram Shandy” which recalls Machado de Assis’s “Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas” (see my review). In addition, the author makes allusions to the Tapestry of Creation at different points in the narrative.

By the end of the book, there are also numerous reflections pertinent to our time. For example, the author relates (Location 1174) that “. . . Ecks on the other hand maintains that all periods have been periods of poverty and uncertainty for those who have no power: our days are no different from the past, except in the number of tyrants, their systematic methods and the cold logic with which they lead the world to madness.” Peri Rossi opines (in Location 1817) that “. . . women . . . collaborate in perpetuating the myths which sustain the structure, ideology and spirit of the tribe” in line with what Adichie has expressed (see my review of her “We All Should Be Feminists’). Toward the end of the book, she has a female character state (in Location 2065) “The real humiliation is to know that you are the victim of chance, one more form of oppression. I’ll never sleep with a man again. It’s through them that fate enters our lives, subjugates us, poisons our beings. Never, never again. Men bring about our slavery, forge the chains.” At the end of the book (Location 2357), the author relates a dream and an enigma that haunts Ecks, “What is the greatest tribute and homage a man can give to the woman he loves?” Such comments and questions are not unlike those discussed by Paglia in her "Free Women, Free Men" (see my review).

In 2021, Cristina Peri Rossi received the Cervantes Prize, the most prestigious award given for Spanish-language literature. Certainly, this award is well-deserved and as her most well know novel, “Ship of Fools” is well worth reading for its literary cleverness and contemporary social relevance.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
175 reviews3 followers
December 23, 2022
La uruguaya Cristina Peri Rossi fue una de las tantas exiliadas durante la dictadura del '72 y en su narrativa se descubre este exilio de forma amplia y nostálgica.

Considerada la única representante femenina del boom latinoamericano, «La nave de los locos» es una de las obras post-boom más importantes.

En esta novela, Rossi muestra dos caras de una moneda. Por una parte, define el tapiz románico de la creación y todo su orden y armonía.

Por otra parte, nos cuenta la vida de Equis y otros personajes ficticios del «barco», que no es más que una alegoría al exilio, al hecho de vivir en todos lados sin ser o sentirse de ninguno.

El que emigra, el que huye y el que viaja constantemente tienen algo en común: extrañan, irremediablemente.

Feminismo, política, sexualidad, religión, literatura, sabiduría... Todos son temas que tienen lugar en el barco y que la autora expone con suprema poesía para gusto del buen lector.

Rossi conmueve, ante ese realismo que le inyecta a la soledad que agobia a todos los hombres.

«— No nací extranjero –le informó–. Es una condición que he adquirido con el tiempo y no por voluntad propia. Usted misma podría llegar a serlo si se lo propusiera, aunque no se lo aconsejo. Por lo menos no de una manera definitiva.»
255 reviews36 followers
September 8, 2021
Global Read 183- Uruguay

I didn't love this book, but it is possible I just missed part of it. It also didn't help that the blurb on the back of the book said that it "subverts and reinvents the novel form" and that it was a "series of ever more ambiguous, events, dreams and riddles" Maybe the form of the novel has just gotten a lot looser since 1984 but I did not find it to be unusual in structure at all. It is a series of vignettes each in a chapter, with some other forms interspersed but I probably would not have noticed anything unusual about it if I hadn't been primed to. Similarly the story didn't strike me as that unusual. There were some chapters that stuck out such as the land of the navel gazing but nothing that was wildly outside the norm of other novels I've read. So as always the lesson is don't read the blurb on the back of the book.
Profile Image for Reckless Serenade.
494 reviews69 followers
August 1, 2019
3,5 estrellas

Descubrí a Cristina Peri Rossi con un poema que resultó ser una punzada. Esta novela no ha sido una punzada, pero sí un viaje tal y como se nos avisa reiterada veces al principio. Un viaje en diferentes escenarios, tan diferentes como los personajes que los ocupan.

Es un libro extraño tanto en sus personajes como en su forma. Tardé en pillarle el hilo a la historia, pero cuando lo hice me enganché a él. Por momentos me recordaba a la escritura de Cortázar y de hecho la autora lo llega a mencionar, a pesar de esta comparación Cristina Peri Rossi me ha parecido una narradora extraordinaria.
February 5, 2022
Es una obra que
contiene múltiples experiencias y estas se representan mediante el bagaje de vida
de quien narra; de esta forma, el relato se apega a la figura del viaje y lo foráneo
como cualidad principal de sus personajes.

Por lo que respecta al viaje de Equis, es posible señalar que las historias de su paso por distintas ciudades se repiten con pequeñas modificaciones en la forma pero no en los sentidos.
Profile Image for dirt.
348 reviews17 followers
September 8, 2019
"Through chance, accident, or forgetfulness, we often lose those things we love, and purchase - by mistake or indifference - objects that we never wanted to possess."

The vignettes in this book are thought provoking. For instance, did people really abandon ships of degenerates to the ocean? Seems barbaric and like a waste of a good boat...
480 reviews3 followers
July 1, 2020
Interesante... Me gustó su forma de escribir, su estilo. Eso de que una nota al pie de página fuera en sí como un capítulo (es una exageración) me llamó la atención y encuentro que le dio perspectivas especiales al relato.
El relato en sí da varias vueltas y no termino de entender la idea completa, pero me atrajo. Creo que deberé darle una vuelta más...
Profile Image for Gab G.
24 reviews1 follower
January 21, 2021
Un libro poco convencional. En general es una novela que narra ciertos viajes realizados por Equis y personajes cercanos a él y de pronto se está describiendo un papel tapiz en toda su complejidad.
Es una libro muy interesante y a la vez complejo, que en momentos hace referencias a la condición femenina con pasajes llenos de lucidez.
De esos libros que considero no son para todo el mundo.
March 24, 2023
Excelente novela. Estremecedora. Emotiva. No es un libro fácil pero es la primera vez que disfruto tanto de un libro tan complejo, y por momentos incomprensible. Tampoco es una novela rápida, en mi caso me basta uno o dos capítulos por día para pensar acerca de ello por semanas. Conocía solo su poesía y hoy me enamoré de su prosa. Un libro para llevar siempre en la mochila.
Profile Image for ghreys.
14 reviews
September 23, 2019
"What did women do when they were sad? Where did they go? Where did they take their melancholy? There weren't many public places for women; no doubt their bad moments were spent in loneliness among household objects, by the washing machine."
Profile Image for Daniel Polansky.
Author 27 books1,129 followers
March 13, 2022
Fantastical vignettes loosely linked by the presence of a its central character, a wandering hero archetype re-imagined for a feminist age. Kind of like if the Night Town chapter of Ulysses went on for 200 pages. Which, thinking about it now, it nearly does. Anyway, I thought this was uneven.
Profile Image for Liv Bennett.
124 reviews36 followers
March 26, 2020
Aunque entiendo lo experimental del estilo y la narración de la historia, no ha sido una lectura para mi.
Profile Image for Yesenia.
614 reviews25 followers
October 31, 2022
leí este libro con... 19? 21 años?
leí este libro cuando se había instalado muy dentro de mí la certeza, tan dentro que la sentía en los pies, pesada como plomo, de que me iría de la isla. de que me exiliaría. porque la emigración de quien no cabe es un exilio. no sabía, sin embargo, que hay personas que no cabemos en ninguna parte. no encajamos en ningún país, en especial, en el propio, tras haber tomado conciencia de ello. no puedes olvidar el desencaje, no puedes ya no verlo. una vez te ves como pieza cuadrada en agujero redondo, no puedes cerrar los ojos y pretender que sí, que tú también, como los demás, eres esférico. no lo eres, tienes esquinas.
pero eso lo supe tras acabar La nave de los locos.
hoy, muchos jóvenes, muchas jóvenes (más ellas que ellos, ellos no leen tanta literatura), ven que no encajan, que no entran en los agujeros que les han marcado, y se declaran no binaries, trans, cuir. miran su sexo y dicen, esto es lo que va mal. pero en mi juventud, yo miraba mis pies. y Cristina Peri Rossi también. Y Equis. Y el exilio en su totalidad, el exiliado y el extranjero, mira sus pies sobre la tierra ajena y dice, no encajan, pero tras vagar por otras tierras, mira sus pies sobre la tierra propia y el desencaje es aún peor, es terrorífico, es doloroso...

y leí nuevamente este libro, a mis 47, desde otra tierra. vivo muy lejos de la isla, de mi isla, y he vivido en tres países muy distintos desde que me fui. vivo en España, como la Peri. dejé a mi América, como la Peri. no había soldados en mi terruño, solo... me quedaba sin aire. las islas son, a veces, muy pequeñas. la mía era pequeña no solo por serlo, sino por vocación. mi isla es islófoba, ha internalizado la creencia absoluta de su pequeñez y escasa valía. y yo no sirvo para hacer cosas, solo sé mirar y dolerme.

desde aquí he leído este libro y he pasado por el desencaje en tres países, y en este no me molesta tanto, ya. porque he echado una raíz, que es una hija, una hija que encaja perfectamente aunque no encaje nunca--es muy su propia persona, nunca será una esfera que se podrá meter en un agujero redondo, siempre tendrá aristas y esquinas cuando se necesite absoluta carencia de carácter, y suavidad y ternura cuando se requiera dureza de corazón--y he amado cada tierra en la que he estado y las llevo dentro y soy de ellas de manera absoluta. y vuelvo a mi isla cada verano y la miro y me duelo y es lo que hago porque es lo que sé hacer, y no me importa ya, ¿por qué me importó tanto en mi juventud, lo de tener unos pies que no encajaban, lo de no tocar el suelo como los demás, lo de no caber por donde se iban todos?, no me importa ser la rara o la anormal o la abyecta, la tierra nunca me dijo vete, mi madre nunca me dijo vete, mis hermanas, mis sobrinos, ni siquiera mis tías mirándome de medio lado, críticamente y sin comprender, me dijeron vete, ¿qué me importaba que el plomo, la certeza, me empujaran a salir? salí, pero siempre vuelvo. no soy de aquí ni soy de allá, pero no me importa. no tengo que serlo, porque amo a Burgos, donde vivo, como si siempre la hubiese conocido y querido, y amé las ciudades en la que viví antes, Bogotá y Popayán, como si fueran mis madres, y amé la ciudad de Madison, en Wisconsin, como a una hermana, y mi isla pequeña que cabe en cualquier corazón me recibe cada verano y me tira del alma cada diciembre, y no quepo en ninguna parte pero todos caben en mí.

y no entiendo el identitarismo que reduce y empequeñece y no entiendo el cosmopolitanismo que desprecia y distancia y no entiendo el nacionalismo que es ciego y sordo y no toca ni se deja tocar, porque mi compromiso vital con Burgos y España, con Colombia, con Wisconsin, con Puerto Rico, es pleno y absoluto y soy suya, más suya que mía y más suya que de mi propia madre.

Y he vuelto a leer La nave de los locos porque había que hacerlo.
Profile Image for Ola Bujak.
11 reviews1 follower
March 12, 2021
I'm probably not sophisticated enough to enjoy it. As much as I appreciate the writing, it felt really pretentious and hard to get through at times.

Massive edit: It's actually really fun to analyse afterwards!
Profile Image for lau.
72 reviews
December 22, 2022
"Extranjero. Ex. Extrañamiento. Fuera de las entrañas de la tierra"

Me tomó dos lecturas, tan solo empezar a entender la novela, pero con cada lectura se vuelve más rica.
Es una representación magnífica del exilio; no solamente del país propio, sino del que se vive por otros motivos: género, sexualidad, etc. Es decir, es una novela sobre lo diferente y sobre las relaciones humanas que se generan a partir de dichas diferencias.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 31 reviews

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