The Sharks: The History of a Crew and a Shipwreck Paperback – Jun 1 1993
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Which is not to say that the hero, Peder Jensen, second mate and ship's doctor by default, is a well-adjusted socialite. Rather, he has "Neptune of the blood" and is driven away from society out to sea, though he dreads its roar and consuming depths. Yet when he stands at the helm of the ship he adores and calls Sancta Venere, steering it through the night, he reflects on humankind with a measure of hope. He sees it poised like himself on a point between the infinite universe of stars above and the immeasurable depths of the ocean below, yet imbued with a life-spirit, a world-soul, that pervades and encompasses everything. As it happens, the ship, which has set sail in October 1899, is doomed, and the century toward it and its crew are headed is the very same that inspired the author of the previous novels with recoiling horror. That he maintains such mastery of himself and his subject in this novel demonstrates great nobility of will and spirit.
The crew is filled with desperados, cutthroats and every kind of ethnic rabble, plus a capitalist slavedriver for capitan and a religious fanatic for first mate; the action is violent, explosive and unpredictable; there is also a tender story of a lost boy reminiscent of Mikhail Sholokhov's "The Fate of a Man." The sharks of the title are present not to eat everyone but rather to be eaten: when cut and bleeding in the water they are attacked by their kin, yet in the frenzy of feeding and thrashing turn to chomp on their own innards streaming from their guts. These bloodied sharks are hurled in the water after the men have sliced off their fins for soups and gauged out their livers for medicines. So the more hopeful Bj'rneboe has not lost his critical eye. His last novel is escapist literature of a high order, providing much food for thought and a tour de force of artistic prose in Murer's unfailingly vigorous translation.