Another pleasant surprise from Conrad. I was really not expecting to enjoy this seafaring epic, but I am very glad my expectations were misguided. My initial reaction was not so positive and I longed for the presence of an illustrative map of the fictional Costaguana. This then followed with the introduction of a multitude of characters. My gut told me there were too many places and too many characters, but my heart told me to keep on reading, and read I did as Conrad managed to bring it all together, quite magnificently.
Set in the fictitious South American country of Costaguana, Conrad spins a masterful yarn juxtaposing patriotism and revolution, honor and deception. The British Goulds come to town to reopen a silver mine and are seen as both honorable and exploitative. Nostromo, the book’s namesake is believed to be omniscient by all with the exception of the despised Dr. Monygham. There is death, deception and despair and after initial glimpses of the various characters, Conrad then thrusts us in to their hearts and souls where we see what lurks inside.
The protagonist, Nostromo, is an Italian seaman who has become an enigmatic hero to the coastal town of Sulaco. He is adored by women and children, the young and the old, the rich and the poor and is said to be incorruptible. Nostromo’s origins actually came from tales Conrad heard as a young sailor himself. Many years later, he came upon the same tale in a book found in a second hand shop.
Charles Gould had been forewarned by his father that he should have nothing to do with the Sulaco silver mine as it would most certainly come to no good and believed it to be his own downfall. His father writes lengthy letters to his son in England about the evils of the silver mine. Quite expectedly, Charles becomes obsessed with Sulaco and studies mining and travels to Costaguana with his wife following his father’s unexpected death. Don Carlos, as he is known, is seen as a stiff Brit, but is respected for his hard work and accepted for his employment of the townspeople.
The wife of Don Carlos, Emilia Gould is beloved by all. She sees much beyond the mine and takes true interest in some of the townspeople. Whether from boredom or true altruism, she settles in quite happily to life in Sulaco and takes on the care of those in need.
My personal favorite was Dr. Monygham, the misunderstood physician who ambles about town in shabby dress carrying his crippled body about. He is disliked by all, yet no one can state specifically why he is the town’s pariah. Conrad allows the reader to wonder at his insolent behavior until he reveals the brutal torture he endured resulting in the facial scars and lameness that continue to torture him throughout his life.
That irreparable change a death makes in the course of our daily thoughts can be felt in a vague and poignant discomfort of mind.
There is no credulity so eager and blind as the credulity of covetousness, which, in its universal extent, measures the moral misery and the intellectual destitution of mankind.
Solitude from mere outward condition of existence becomes very swiftly a state of soul in which the affectations of irony and scepticism have no place. It takes possession of the mind, and drives forth the thought into the exile of utter unbelief.
Having now consumed two of his novels, I’m sure I’d enjoy chatting with Mr. Conrad. Perhaps he could share some of his seafaring tales over lunch.
My rating for Nostromo is a 9 out of 10.
To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
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