"Shipbreak" by Claudio Cambon tells the story of the last voyage, dismantling, and recycling of an American merchant vessel in Bangladesh in the late 1990s. Through both words and images, it describes how the ship becomes a touchstone for many groups of people across the world: from the American shipbuilders who built her in the early 1960s and the seamen who worked on her for almost four decades all the way to the Bangladeshi shipbreakers who took the vessel apart, more or less by hand, and the many people who incorporated the ship’s raw materials into their daily lives as part of their country’s effort to develop its infrastructure and economy.
The book describes how the ship was a source of livelihood for all these individuals, whether they were engaged in the act of its creation, operation, or apparent destruction, and it draws a seemingly improbable connection between them in order to reveal a common humanity above and beyond the boundaries of space and time that appear to separate them.
"Shipbreak" also depicts how their lives collectively give this magnificent object a metaphoric life of its own, and as such, the book becomes a meditation on the nature of life itself, on its loss and its transcendence. From photographs of the ship’s blueprints and launch to ones of objects made with the recast metal, it bears witness to the way the ship was born, lived and died, and ultimately came to live again, albeit in a myriad of new forms that bear little resemblance to its former self.
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