SHIP OF FOOLS by Katherine Anne Porter
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Katherine Anne Porter's reputation through the years has rested securely on three collections of fragile short stories which have been so well and lovingly remembered. This is her first novel, and it has been awaited anxiously ever since it was announced for publication more than twenty years ago. Those who may have wondered whether her special gifts, grace and sensibility, might not be overwhelmed by the longer form, in this case a novel of magnitude as well as length (160,000 words), will be reassured now that she has reached the end of what she called a ""very prolonged pregnancy"". As for the book itself, it covers the crossing of a small ship from Vera Cruz to Germany in August, 1931. While the immediate frame of reference is of course the rabid intensification of German supremacy and anti-semitism, the novel has a broader intent and appropriates the ""simple almost universal image of the ship of this world on its voyage to eternity"". Its human freight will be buffeted in the flux of life and death, love and hate. They will also have engaged in every kind of interchange, from gossip and furtive speculation, to the savage stigmatizing of their fellow passengers on national and racial grounds. The ship, while manned by Germans and carrying a predominantly German group on the upper decks, has also some Americans aboard, a graceless Swiss family, a gypsy zarzuela company of singers and dancers, and a steerage load of Spaniards. There are many scenes and situations, few actual incidents. There are also many individual characterizations, some of perhaps greater sharpness than depth: Jenny Brown, in her equivocal bondage to the demanding, unyielding David Scott- both Americans and artists; Lowenthal, with his instinctive uneasiness as a Jew, the victim of an exclusion which is both volitional and imposed; Mary Treadwell, the lonely, transient divorcee; the decadent, drug-dependent Condesa; etc., etc. You have only to take a constitutional around the deck, or sit through a meal, with any one of a number of Germans here (the rigid Captain Thiele, the self-important, self-righteous Professor Hutten, the vulgar Herr Rieber) and the national character is defined in unmistakable terms. And there are many matchless scenes, from the swarming, fetid port of embarkation at the outset to the drunken Tolentanz at the close. It is just these cascading experiences, disordered at times, unresolved at others, but always freely-freshly- creatively communicated, which give the book its extraordinary sense of life.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 1962
ISBN: 0316713902
Publisher: Little, Brown-A.M.P.