The Death Ship
by B. Traven
The death ship it is I am in,
All I have lost, nothing to win
So far off sunny New Orleans
So far off lovely Louisiana.
(from "Song of An American Sailor")
This was B. Traven's first novel, published in 1934, and it is my favorite of his works. It is a sea story unlike any other in that it is a story of men at sea as a metaphor for men against what Jack London infamously referred to as the "Iron Heel" of modern industrialism. It is a novel with hypnotic power, timelessness, universality and authenticity. In this work Traven approaches the ability of Joseph Conrad to make the sea come alive for the reader.
Bruce Catton called the book "a startling novel about the horrible things that can happen to a man in the cock-eyed post-war world of Europe if he can't prove he is who he says he is. . . Our sailor is entangled in a world gone mad,a world in which justice and sanity have simply ceased to exist." A few decades later and several wars as well, and the world seems at times to be just as cock-eyed, no more just or sane.
What makes many readers intrigued, even more than this mesmerizing first novel, is the mysteriousness with which B. Traven hid his personal life. Even after many more novels, including the great Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Traven continued to hide behind a post office box in Mexico City. Well, no matter, his novels stand for themselves as exciting and daring adventures into the world of men and nature. This reader will continue to read and enjoy them for that alone.
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