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Ship of Fools

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  1,870 Ratings  ·  187 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, 476 pages
Published September 1st 1963 by Signet (first published 1962)
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Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, favorites
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, polit ...more
May 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-review, favorites
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
Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools* is based on sea voyage the author actually took in 1931 from Mexico to Germany. It then took her 20 years to write this novel based on her experience. It is known as her masterpiece and it is.

The title is also apropos. It is a huge cast of crazy characters. The ship’s crew and first class passengers are mostly from Germany; but there is also: a corrupt Spanish zarzuela company; a political exile noblewoman, La Condesa, who is being deported from Cuba to Te
Dec 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Carol Storm
Mar 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Larry Bassett
Jun 21, 2012 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
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
Daniel Villines
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
Cu toate că mama avea Corabia nebunilor a lui Katherine Anne Porter în bibliotecă de cînd eram copil (din cîte știu, o mai are încă – chiar ediția aceasta, publicată de Cartea românească în 1975 – oare o mai fi fost reeditată?), și deși pe vremea aceea citeam cam tot ce-mi pica în mînă, nu știu de ce romanul ăsta nu m-a atras – ceva nu-mi plăcea la el, poate coperta (că titlul corespundea destul de bine orizonturilor mele de așteptare), sau poate l-oi fi răsfoit și nu mi-a plăcut stilul, nu-mi a ...more
Mar 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 --
Mar 23, 2015 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".
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
K.M. Weiland
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started this, I wasn't impressed: yay, another depressingly cynical demonstration of severely non-heroic characters. But something about it pulled me in. Strangely, the experience reminded me a lot of Thomas Mann's Miracle Mountain, in that it is a leisurely and distanced exploration of flawed humanity. It *is* a generally depressing view of life, but it is rich and deep and thought-provoking.
You ever stayed at a hostel in your twenties, and had a circle of people, all drinking beer and generally having a good time, all of you of different nationalities, getting along? Then some Belgian or Swede or something or other says something slightly horrific about refugees, or about how America has no culture because it is a nation of immigrants. Or a Japanese guy tells you that the actions of the Japanese army in mainland Asia in World War II were fully justified. Or a fellow American tells ...more
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
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Moira Downey
May 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do you know the quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning? "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Katherine Anne Porter's novel "Ship of Fools" could be described as 'how do I hate thee, let me count the ways'. It introduces us to a conglomerate of people from many different social, economic and ethnic backgrounds, traveling from Mexico to Germany in the closed confines of an ocean liner. The novel is based on Ms. Porter's own experiences in 1931 on just such a voyage. Remember that Hitler cam ...more
Apr 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 30, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Too many characters for my addlepated brain to keep track of. I gave up about a third of the way through. I gave it 3 stars because the writing was good. I just didn't know who I was reading about half the time. :-(
„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
Mar 05, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Bezimena knjizevna zadruga
Zaboravljeni klasik brutalnog naslova, 700strana, 3 čina, jedan brod, galerija antijunaka, prekookenasko putovanje i apsolutno odsustvo ikakvih događaja na istom. Naizgled prevaziđena, zapravo potpuno aktuelna, hardkor literatura. Nema u knjižarama, nema u letnjim koferima.

Gigi Langer
As much as I love philosophy & psychology, I didn’t need to spend all these hours in the neurotic musings of people driven by classism, insecurity, and racism. It’s true to its time, no doubt, but not worth drinking in that mental mess. That said, the language is lovely and the insights into human nature are on point.
Nov 25, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just can't finish this book after getting more than a quarter of the way through. At this stage of my life, life is too short. I haven't read anything this boring and tiresome in a long, long time. Giving it up and starting a new "Unfinished" shelf in its honor. I never don't finish books... until now. So -- new shelf.
Apr 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This truly is a masterpiece. The writing is so exceptional that you find yourself pausing and rereading a sentence.
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unfairly neglected? 8 19 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.” 19 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...” 9 likes
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