The story takes place in the summer of 1931, on board a cruise ship bound for Bremerhaven, Germany. The passenger list is long and portentous, and ...Show synopsisThe story takes place in the summer of 1931, on board a cruise ship bound for Bremerhaven, Germany. The passenger list is long and portentous, and includes a Spanish noblewoman, a drunken German lawyer, an American divorcee, a pair of Mexican Catholic priests, and a host of others. 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 themes of nationalism, cultural and ethnic pride, and basic human frailty that are as relevant now as they were when the novel first appeared in 1962.Hide synopsis
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SHIP OF FOOLS tells the story of a group of German nationals on a boat from Veracruz to Germany. Jews by the boatload were attempting to escape from an atrocious and repressive regime. What the passengers did not realize is that the shipboard lifestyle reflected a macrocosm of pain that is to be experienced in the rest of the world. We meet dozens of characters, some more skillfully developed than others, including a young American couple through whose eyes we get to see the whole tragedy unfolding.
The novel is not plot driven but an observed portrait. Porter focuses on the telling of details of each personality and the result is a sometimes funny, often touching, and ultimately stinging examination of the insularity, hypocrisies, and pretensions of shipboard passengers en route from Mexico to Germany on the eve of World War II.
Porter's cast of characters are primarily German, but a handful of Spanish, Mexican, Swiss, and American characters giving the novel an international perspective. The characters tend to adopt reactionary postures toward and make assumptions about their fellow travelers based on both class and nationality; consequently, they tend to regard each other in a stereotypical light but even as they fail to understand the truths behind the stereotypes, Porter highlights their lack of comprehension in a frequently comic but extremely disconcerting manner, demonstrating that her characters are at sea in more ways than one.
Because of certain symbolism this is not a novel to read quickly or casually. It requires time to develop clearly in the mind, so readers are advised to approach it with ample time in which to enjoy this superior work.
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