Ten years after his father is murdered by a brutal dictator, Englishman Charles Gould arrives in Costaguana to reopen the family silver mine. But instead of ushering in a shining era of prosperity and progress, the return of the silver engenders a new cycle of violence as Costaguana erupts in civil war, initiated by rival warlords determined to seize the mine and its riches.
The plot of this novel is tangled, its characters largely inscrutible. An early work of the Modernist peroid of literature, it's time line is fractured and scattered. Nearly every page contains words or lines in Italian, French, or Spanish. I read 'Nostromo' with a dictionary close at hand, in order to devine the meanings of such words as "stentorian" or "imprecation" or "execrable".
Despite its anguished genesis and it's dense and difficult nature, Conrad's prose is lovely and he litters the page with profound comments on society and human nature. There is much to think about here.
This is a novel rife with ambiguity. Conrad seems to be struggling to come up with answers, and arriving a none. Despite this, the struggle seems paradoxially worth the effort, as though the very act of raising these questions and battling these demons has value in itself, even if the battle is ultimately lost.
I know that the characters, places, themes, and ideas of 'Nostromo' will be with me for a long time to come. Lacking a satisyfing conclusion or resolution, the reading of 'Nostromo' was nevertheless a worthwhile endeavor. It has been said of 'Nostromo' that it is one of those books you can't read without having read it before. We'll, now I've read it once.
Nostromo wasn't an easy read for me. The sentence structure, while grammatically correct, was unusual, and I frequently had to back up and re-read sentences in order to interpret them correctly. I concluded it's probably because English wasn't Conrad's first language. As new characters are introduced into the novel, Conrad frequently weaves flashbacks into the text, but without the visual clues of font and/or spacing common in today's novels. Finally, this is a long novel. Conrad uses an omniscient narrator, who describes in detail the physical appearance, thoughts, and motivations of even the minor characters in the novel, as well as the back story of events. I much prefer novels that show rather than tell.
I'm glad I persevered and finished this book. I doubt it's one I'll read again, and it will probably be a long time before I pick up another Conrad novel. I'm no closer to identifying with poor Marlais Quire than I was before I started the book.
I am happy to report that as an adult I managed to make it through the book and even found parts of it to admire. The story can be summarized quite briefly. In a fictional South American country, a large silver mine run by an Englishman, Mr. Gould, flourishes and brings prosperity to the local economy. However, in the rest of the country political unrest is common. When Mr. Gould learns that the moderate president has been unseated and that the revolutionaries are going to come for the mine he decides to send all the silver bars off-shore for safekeeping. The person chosen to undertake this dangerous mission is Nostromo, an Italian sailor who has become indispensable to the town and seaport. In the dark the small boat carrying the silver is sideswiped by a boat of revolutionaries coming to take over the seaport. One man on board, a stowaway, manages to grab hold of the anchor rope and he is brought up onto the boat. He tells the master that the silver has sunk with the boat. In fact, Nostromo and another man have survived and manage to get the boat onto a nearby island. They hide the silver there and Nostromo returns to the town. There he is persuaded to undertake a hazardous ride and bring help which he does. By the time he returns the man left on the island has killed himself so no-one knows that the silver is safe. Nostromo decides to keep the silver for himself.
In the style of the times, I suppose, there is a lot of description and slow movement of plot. Conrad is fond of long, multi-phrase sentences that are often difficult to follow. Although Nostromo is the title character, he doesn't appear in much of the narrative. I found this strange and awkward.
However, having broken the curse of hating Conrad I may try Heart of Darkness which many people feel is his greatest work.
by Joseph Conrad
Sometimes the main reason for reading the book is more interesting than the book itself. Nostromo, by Joseph Conrad, is one of those books.
I refer to books like Nostromo as 'Sleepers,' my term for books which are guaranteed to induce sleep. Other common Sleepers are:
1. the Bible
2. any type of spiritual reading
3. the Rosary.
Granted, the Rosary is not a book, but it is a study or meditation on the life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord, and some of the events in the life of the Blessed Mother. Lately, when I have had trouble falling asleep, even the Rosary has not knocked me out. I have found that praying the 'Ave
Maria' and 'Pater Noster' in Latin do seem to put me to sleep.
I find that a good 'Sleeper' is necessary whenever I am on call at work. When I get to my call room, often I can't sleep because of several things:
1. an uncomfortable bed, 2. no wife in bed(it's really hard to sleep without her after 17+ years of marriage), 3. recent ingestion of coffee, or
4. just being a bit too wound up at work. After trying prayer and old copies of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, I would reach for Conrad's book
Why I Read This Book
It is ironic that the book induces sleep in me when you consider how I first got interested in reading the book. Back in 1979, a movie called 'Alien'
was released. I first heard about it from some friends of my grandparents in Florida. I can still recall this retired couple talking about the movie
in 1979. It sounded as if the movie was so disturbing that people were leaving the theater during the showing. I found it odd that this older
couple even went to it in the first place, let alone sat through it. Be that as it may, it wasn't until years later that I saw the movie and I agree
that it was rather disturbing to watch. One little bit of information that stuck in my head was the name of the space ship where most of the action
takes place: Nostromo.
I knew there had to be a reason for the odd name of the ship. Then one day I came across 'Nostromo' while looking for another book by Conrad - 'Heart of
Darkness,' the inspiration for the movie 'Apocalypse Now.' What the heck.
The book was cheap, and I ended up buying both of them.
When I got around to reading Nostromo, I noticed that it was a potent soporific. All I needed to read was a paragraph or two and I would be off
to restful sleep. After a few weeks of rereading the same two pages, I realized I had hit upon the perfect sleeper for the call room at work.
Sleep played an important part in the movie 'Alien' as well, which makes me wonder if the name of the ship was inspired by the effects on the screenwriter. In the movie, the main purpose of the ship is to transport ore from one place to another, while the crew is hibernating. Consider the
opening scene, where our ill-fated crew of the Nostromo is seen emerging from suspended animation. For the remainder of the movie, the crew of
Nostromo are bent on killing the alien and getting back to sleep. The movie even ends with the lone survivor settling in for a nice long nap. Sleep is
good, and the motto of the movie should have been 'In Space No One Can hear You Snore.'
The Book in Brief
Nostromo takes place in a fictitious Central or South American country called Costaguana. It is located on the West, or Pacific Coast. The port
city, Sulaco, is near the San Tome silver mine. During a rebellion, the mine owner puts a shipload of silver under the care of one Gian' Battista,
better known as Nostromo. The plan was for Nostromo to hide the ore until the troubles died down in Costaguana. The silver disappears, and Nostromo
comes back with a story that it was lost at sea. What really happened is that he secreted it in a place where no one else could find it. He realizes
after a while that the load of silver is not worth the financial stability as it changes him:
"A transgression, a crime, entering a man's existence, eats it up like a malignant growth, consumes it like a fever. Nostromo had lost his peace; the genuineness of all his qualities was destroyed. He felt it himself, and often cursed the silver of San Tome. His courage, his magnificence, his leisure, his work, everything was as before, only everything was a sham. But the treasure was real. He clung to it with a more tenacious, mental grip. But he hated the feel of the ingots. Sometimes, after putting away a couple of them in his cabin—the fruit of a secret night expedition to the Great Isabel—he would look fixedly at his fingers, as if surprised they had left no stain on his skin."
While I used the book more as a sedative than as a reading exercise, there are some redeeming qualities in this book. The change of Nostromo's
character after he adds 'silver thief' to his resume is a great study in how evil affects the 'totality' of man. Nostromo can be considered a metaphor for the soul, where sin corrupts all of the many aspects of a good man, and results in his ultimate ruin and death. Even at the point of death, the sins of Nostromo tarnish his last moments of life.
Seriously, this book was hard to read and keep my attention. I went so far as to record the first time something exciting happened – page 260. Conrad
spends a lot of time describing things, places, and people in rather beautiful language. It is remarkable to think that English was not his
I recommend this as a book with some reservations - for language which is offensive to various ethnic groups.
The story is one of a silver mine in the Occidental Province of “the imaginary (but true)” Latin American country of Costaguana, and the crisis by which the province passes from the chaos of post-colonial misrule to the unquiet prosperity of Anglo-American imperial capitalism. With the country beset by instability and warfare, Senor Gould, the mine's owner, decides to remove the silver and keep it out of the hands of the warlords.
To do so, Gould turns to Nostromo, the top stevedore and the most trusted man in Sulaco. Nostromo is resourceful, daring, loyal and—above all—incorruptible. His illustrious reputation is his most prized possession. Says one character, "the only thing he seems to care for...is to be well spoken of." Well, you can see the tragic flaw right there. Even the most incorruptible are, ultimately, corruptible.
The book's psychological depth and narrative structure, with its distorted timeline, were innovative for the era. The huge array of characters and interactions have been compared to War and Peace. Irony abounds: the non-chronological plotline tips us off to consequences before we know what led up to them—and results in a sense of inexorable fate pulling characters to their ultimate destiny.
This story combined with a love triangle between Nostromo and two sisters Linda and Giselle make for an entertaining and intriguing novel. Told in Conrad's inimitable prose style this is one of his greatest achievements.
Nostromo starts off interestingly enough, setting the stage by describing the imaginary South American country of Sulaco. Then it hits a slow patch when it goes into the details of the political situation. That's where I slowed down. But the second half picks up again, with a real adventure tale of stolen silver and star-crossed lovers. Of course, the writing throughout is elegant Conrad.
All of the Penguins were being published with the light green covers, which I came to love, and I have 10 or 11 volumes in that style. Then they switched to orange, black and white, which I am not fond of at all. (As if it makes any difference to the text.)
In 2004 I realized that it had been about 25 years since I had read an appreciable amount of Joseph Conrad, so at that time, I selected Nostromo as the work that I would reread.
So it was very interesting to compare what I remembered of it after such a long interval. I am happy to say that I was able to remember quite a bit and that it was not just a complete blank. I had been fearful that the novel would have been erased from my memory since with my advancing age, there are some recent things that I don't recall as easily as I would like. However, since I was only about 19 or 20 when I originally read it, my youthful mental powers may have been able to create a more indelible record, retrievable even after 25 years. Perhaps it is only the recent records in my memory, created in my forties, that are too weak to begin with to then be retrievable even after an interval as short as a year or two.
Anyway, all of this has not too much to do with the actual book.
I am fascinated with learning of second languages, and am constantly amazed by Joseph Conrad's language and syntax in English, given that this was at least his third language (after Polish and French, apparently.)
If I can ever get as good at German, French, or Russian (all of which I have dabbled in to some degree) as Joseph Contrad was in English, then I will truly have accomplished something.
This is one of the "Library for the Blind And Physically Handicapped" books on tape. I've set my options as widely as possible on this, so I can receive books that I would not necessarily otherwise think of reading. I listen after I'm ready for bed, before I am asleep. Think of it as a grownup version of "bedtime story."
This book has the effect of a mild sedative, so far. It starts, and I'm asleep in something like 10 minutes.
Update: I give up. I'm only getting about 7 minutes out of 45. In other words, I'm falling asleep within 4 minutes!
Maybe some books can be enjoyed that way. This one… Not so much!
This is his third book in a row that I've read (Outcast of the Island and Lord Jim) while working up to deal with Heart of Darkness.
It is the first one where a Conrad character leaped out to be loved and admired > GIORGIO!
The plot of Nostromo's tangents is sustained through often confusing political turmoil, even though he is often missing from most of the action.
"Negro liberals" is still a mystery...
As is how Nostromo's character so radically changed from incorruptible to not calling the priest for his dying friend,
to his odd epiphany about loving Giselle, and, strangest of all, his desertion of Decoud.
It is bizarre to have a character described as one in a thousand, a paragon of virtue, and always perfectly honest when the character almost immediately contradicts all of those descriptions. Conrad gets no characterization points for Nostromo.
Nor does he get any points for a satisfactory climax to his story: just as the tension of the story reaches its zenith Conrad skips ahead in time to when everything has been resolved. Another bizarre choice.
Nostromo is nothing special, if you want to read some Conrad outside of Heart of Darkness try The Secret Agent instead.
The trick is, this book is great, but only if you've already done a *lot* of reading, particularly of the late nineteenth and early century's best novelists. Proust helps a lot. So does James. Even the less difficult modernists, like Forster, are useful. But Nostromo is not like Ulysses. I didn't understand Ulysses, but Joyce's writing is nice and there are some jokes to keep you going. Conrad's style here is wonderful, but not the sort of wonderful that keeps you going on its own. You need to be able to follow the plot, and you have to learn how to follow it.
But if you're either well-read or dedicated enough, this must be one of the best 50 novels- maybe even 20- of the twentieth century. The characters are hard to get a handle on, but once you do, they're extraordinary. Conrad's way of presenting the story is formally amazing. I've also been reading Genette's 'Narrative Structures,' and the tools in that book help make sense of this one (although Nostromo also shows up the problems with Genette's concepts, since they function best in first person narratives and not so well with third person narratives). The narrative seems to be all over the place. You get the consequences of and event before you get the event; you get two line summaries of what seem to be (but aren't) the most important events... and so it goes.
So do yourself a favour. Read the first four chapters. If you don't get into them, just stop and try it again ten years later. But keep trying!