Ship of Fools is vehicle for unpleasant truths

Ship of Fools is not a pleasant story, but Katherine Anne Porter’s rendition of the ship of the world voyaging to certain disaster makes compelling reading.

A German ship, the Vera, leaves Veracruz, Mexico, for Bremerhaven, Germany Aug. 22, 1931. Most of the first class passengers are ex-patriots returning home. They are joined by a sprinkling of students going to study in Europe, tourists, Catholic priests, and an aging Spanish Contessa who has been deported from Cuba for political reasons.

In steerage are 876 Spanish agricultural workers being deported from Cuba because the sugar industry in which they worked has failed.

Despite the number of characters, Porter makes them distinctive individuals. Each elicits , if not sympathy, at least a measure of understanding.

Being confined in a small ship for 27 days brings out the cruelty and bigotry of individuals. National and religious biases are magnified. All leave the ship with relief at finally being home in a familiar, comfortable place.

Readers see what the voyagers do not: home will not be better. Europe will soon be torn apart by cruelty and bigotry on a colossal scale, yet World War II will change nothing. People will remain blind to any interests but their own.

Ship of Fools
Katherine Anne Porter
Little, Brown 1962
497 pages
 1962 #1
My grade B+
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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