b. traven played me like a fiddle with this book. i found myself muttering darkly about the bloodless bureaucracy that runs the world, piling up money that will never been seen by the poor, and the honest workers who do their best to stay afloat. it is this kind of rhetoric that stoked my fire:
"There is no getting used to pain and suffering. You become only hard-boiled, and you lose a certain capacity to be impressed by feelings. Yet no human being will ever become used to sufferings to such an extent that his heart will cease to cry out that eternal prayer for all human beings: "I hope that my liberator comes!" He is the master of the world, he who can makes his coins out of the hope of slaves."
"There is justice in this world. Heaps of it. But not for sailors, and not for working-men making trouble. Justice is for those people who can afford to have it. We are not those people. Everybody knows well you cannot go to a consul. If you could, you would not be on the Yorikke
. But your consul is not for you. You cannot pay the fee, and you cannot rattle a hundred-dollar bill among the papers on his desk and forget it there."
this book made me rage more than usual against the world order, and made me more aware of how shifting borders could disenfranchise people born on that land because all of a sudden they are part of a different political landscape -- the realities of being a native of a place like alsace-lorraine after WWI, where whatever language you were taught at your nana's knee makes no difference because now you are french, even if you were german, but only if you have the necessary papers.
and gale, the protagonist, loses his when he's left behind at antwerp after a last-minute decision for an enthusiastic shore leave, and he learns without papers he is nothing. the first section is spent watching gale flail about, trying to find a place that will accept him with no passport, no documentation. he ends up being tossed from country to country by officials who will do nothing for him. part 2 finds him aboard a new ship, convinced to ply his sailor's trade, manipulated into taking on the grueling job of coal drag on a steam ship, the death ship, the Yorikke
. a death ship because eventually it will be sunk, in order to recover insurance money, it is crewed by the hopeless, and the lost, who might as well already be dead. the conditions are deplorable but it is the only work these disenfranchised folk can find. and somehow gale endures. he meets stanislavski, the other coal drag who becomes his friend, who shows him how to survive the job he's been given, and confirms what he already knew to be true: that gale's story is not unique, that there are many people who are forced to take whatever they can get in order to survive by the people who control the bureaucratic machine that controls all the money. i won't describe the third section, but given the subject matter, give that this is a book called the death ship, you'd be wise not to entertain thoughts of a happy ending.
while the novel is truly compelling, i can't give it five stars. the first part was funny even as it was frustrating, but some parts in the second part, like learning how to be a coal drag, really dragged for me, and with stanislavski, paul aka frenchy, and kurt from memel's stories all compounding gale's, i started to get impatient for something else. and a little part of me wished i was reading the night visitor again. now to find the jungle novels!