NOSTROMO

SONY DSC

Author: Joseph Conrad (1857 – 1924)
Publisher: Wordsworth Classics (2000 Edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store

Introduction

Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, better known as Joseph Conrad, was born to a Polish family in Ukraine, which was then part of Tsarist Russia. He became a a British citizen in 1886,  Although he only learned English in his twenties, he is remembered today for his English works including Heart of Darkness (1899), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904) and The Secret Agent (1907). These books were very different from those of late Victorian and Edwardian authors active then, such as Thomas Hardy (1840 – 1928) and Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930). Conrad’s works are considered as early examples of modernist literature.

Conrad lived most of his childhood as a political exile. He left Poland in his teen to avoid conscription and made two voyages to the West Indies with the French merchant navy (1875 – 1877). He went to England in 1878 and joined the British Merchant Marine. From 1878 to 1889, Conrad sailed to Australia, Madras, Singapore, the Malay Archipelago, the Indonesian islands, Bangkok, Melbourne and Mauritius. On 10 May 1890, he departed from Bordeaux on the S.S. Ville de Maceio bound for the Congo Free State. He arrived in Boma on 12 June and traveled overland to Kinshasa. From there, he sailed up the Congo River on a steamer on 3 August and arrived at Stanley Falls (present day Kisangani) on 1 September. He returned to Brussels in January 1891. His journey to the Dark Continent exposed Conrad to the brutality of 19th century European colonialism. He witnessed firsthand the horrific exploitation of the people and resources by Leopold II, King of Belgium. His experience left a profound effect on him and formed the basis of his novella Heart of Darkness.

In Nostromo (written between 1902 to 1904), Conrad returned to the themes he explored in Heart of Darkness, this time in South America, an area he had not actually visited. The 19th century witnessed many states fighting for and securing independence from Spain. What followed, however, was not political unity that leaders like Simon Bolivar had hoped for, but civil wars within, and armed conflicts between the new nations.

Nostromo was picked as number 39 in a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time published by the Observer (2003).

What is the story about?

The fictional nation of Costaguana has just witnessed its latest coup d’état. Revolutionaries and warlords converged on the harbour town of Sulaco in Occidental Province to seize a load of silver from the nearby San Tomé mine. The Europeans in the town assigned Nostromo (the “incorruptible”) to hide the silver (the “incorruptible metal”).

Themes

In Nostromo, foreign “material interests” (capitalism) and nationalistic forces collide in a young and unstable country. The main characters are Charles Gould, the US-financed idealistic and capitalist owner of the mine, Martin Decoud, the cynical dandy turned man of action by love, Dr Monygham, survivor of torture under the old regime, and Nostromo, the eponymous anti-hero. As in Heart of Darkness, the reader sees the action through European eyes.

How is the book?

This is a complete and unabridged edition from Wordsworth Classics. It comes with an introduction and brief notes written by Professor Robert Hampson of University of London. Joseph Conrad’s works are available on-line for free. But this Wordsworth Classics edition, costing only S$3.58 bought during a free-delivery promotion, is attractively priced.

Finally …

The story begins in medias res and then Conrad utilises flashback (analepsis) and and flashforward (prolepsis) all the way to the end of the novel. The transformation of Nostromo from willing participant in the Europeans’ plan to embittered thief reads a little rushed. Even worse, the soap opera involving Nostromo and the 2 daughters of his old friend that unfolds at the very end of the novel seems like it was tacked on simply to deliver a moral message.

Et Cetera

The commercial towing spaceship in the movie Alien (1979) was named Nostromo. In the sequel, Aliens (1986), there was a transport vessel named Sulaco.