Dec 02, 10
Read from November 10 to 29, 2010
In the relatively narrow genre of "Polish authors writing in English about Italian sailors in war-torn South America," this novel is probably the finest. It is challenging at first, as Conrad seems to be experimenting with a few complex narrative devices, which he uses to provide an introductory history of the setting and dramatis personae. He shifts into that style again later in the book, using what we would call in modern cinematic terms a montage to speed up time as the story jumps forward a few years. But as fascinating as all this literary plate-spinning seems, it is when the novel settles down into straightforward linear narrative that it becomes truly compelling.
It is an interesting conceit that the author has embarked upon; imagine an absolutely incorruptible character, noble, handsome, and brave, and then write the story that corrupts him. Giovanni Fidanza, aka "Nostromo," is an Italian expatriate who has found himself a worthy place as the head of the local longshoremen in the coastal port city of Sulaco, in the fictional country of Costaguana. Another in a series of violent (and seemingly pointless) revolutions has erupted, and Nostromo finds himself swept up in an arcane plot to keep the most recently mined load of local silver out of the hands of the leaders of the coup.
No one is innocent in Joseph Conrad's world. His characters are either magnificently complex or pathetically obvious. But regardless of their individual roles, the collective ensemble creates a tragic and beautiful gestalt, and a complete portrait of the weakness of human nature.