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The Rat Ship

May 28, 2020

I’ve always been obsessed with stories about failure — myths, folklore, epics, and tragedies —and how these genres think about the fall of man. Is it our choices, chance, or fate that leads us to our lowest points? Just how does this really happen?

"Rat Ship" by Ernst Weiss feels relevant to me as we live through unparalleled times. This story about a quest to the North Pole appeared in A Public Space No. 05. A portrait of the author, compiled by translator Joel Rotenberg from Weiss's own writing, and recollections by his friends, enemies, and correspondents—including Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Anna Seghers, and others—appeared in A Public Space No. 19.

Taylor Michael is an essayist from Mount Vernon, NY. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University School of the Arts and is the inaugural A Public Space Editorial Fellow.

Ernst Weiss produced some dozen novels and many other writings. His novel Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer was published by Archipelago Books.

​Joel Rotenberg is the translator of Ernst Weiss’s Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer (Archipelago Books). He has also translated work by Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Stefan Zweig for New York Review Books. He lives in New York.


If I am to explain how, because of my father, I became the person I am, I must begin with the story of my father, with the man who had a determining influence on my youth. He too once found himself on a sea voyage that was long, full of privations, and, as I will soon relate, ultimately unsuccessful. This great journey, which entirely appeased his wanderlust, led him, not southward to the equatorial region, but northward. To the pole.

Read on.

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