John's Reviews > Nostromo

Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
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's review
Oct 10, 2009

it was ok
Read in October, 2009

The last time I read something by Joseph Conrad it was required reading in school. It was a short story, I think, but it was a long short story, the kind of short story that has parts instead of chapters. It rained a lot in the story. I think the teacher said that was symbolic of something. I also think there was a boat or a ship in the story.
I promised myself I would never read anything by Joseph Conrad again, unless it was required.
Thirty-five years (approximately) is a long time to keep a promise. I broke the promise, reading "Nostromo" over the past week or so, for no particular reason.
"Nostromo" is set in a fictitious South American country, probably during the latter half of the 19th century, during a time of revolutionary turmoil. The central character is a silver mine, or the silver in the mine, owned by an Englishman and his wife named Gould.
"Nostromo" is a major character. He's an Italian Lone Ranger, a one-man security force who answers to no one but serves just about everyone. Despite being a major character, he barely speaks until about halfway through the book. Even then, a great deal about him remains a mystery. He seems to be invulnerable and tireless, but the adjective Conrad most often uses to describe him -- incorruptible -- turns out to be ironic.
But as I said, the silver itself is the central character. It impacts what every human character does, mostly for the worst.
Reading "Nostromo" is like watching a movie in a foreign language with no subtitles. You certainly get the general idea of what's going on, but you feel like you're missing a great deal along the way.
For me, it's always hard to get back into a book after I've set it down, even if the interval is only a couple of hours or so. But this was more true of "Nostromo" than any other book I can recall reading. It would almost seem as if I was reading a different book entirely.
It doesn't help that Conrad skips around chronologically so that, for instance, a prisoner who is found dead in one chapter is being interrogated in the following chapter.
This is disquieting.
In places, "Nostromo" reminded me strangely of "War and Peace." But although "War and Peace" is much longer, it's also a much easier read.
In spite of all this, I have a feeling it won't be 35 years before the next time I read something by Conrad.

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