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THE ORDINARY SEAMAN by Francisco Goldman


by Francisco Goldman

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-87113-671-6
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

 Goldman's acclaimed debut, The Long Night of the White Chickens (1992), proves to have been no fluke: Its successor is an equally compelling saga of a crew of poor, would-be Central American sailors stranded aboard the rat-infested hulk of a dead ship. Esteban, a 19-year-old survivor of a Sandinista battalion shot to pieces in a contra ambush, flies to New York as part of a group of hopeful, desperate strangers hoping to take seamens' berths on the cargo ship Urus. On arrival, the crew is shocked to see their vessel stripped and sagging along an abandoned Brooklyn pier, its engine room a blackened disaster from a fire at sea on its last voyage. Despite appearances, the yanqui Captain and his non- Spanish-speaking mate are insistent that the Urus will be rebuilt, and they quickly set the crew to work. Summer fades into chilly fall, however, and it becomes obvious to the seamen that not only will the ship never become seaworthy, but they will never be paid; with no cash and no legal status, they're trapped in a floating nightmare. Already ill-clothed and -fed, their despair proves as numbing as the autumn winds, until Esteban begins to explore the area's warehouses, bringing back whatever he can steal. His forays lead him to a Latino neighborhood, where he finds sympathy, a job, and even a girl. He helps the others as best he can, insisting that a friend suffering from a bad burn be taken to the hospital (and he is, never to be heard from again); and when the crew's plight finally attracts official notice, Esteban again takes matters into his own hands. A bizarre set of circumstances (inspired by a true story) vividly wrought, but even more memorable is Goldman's fresh and moving take on such matters as longing, love, cruelty, and fellowship, probed in a poignant and original narrative. (First printing of 35,000; $50,000 ad/promo)