Thursday, June 11, 2009

97. Nostromo – Joseph Conrad

History: Written in 1904
Plot: Señor Gould is a native Costaguanan of English descent who owns the silver-mining concession in Sulaco. He is tired of the political instability in Costaguana and its concomitant corruption, and puts his weight behind the Ribierist project, which he believes will finally bring stability to the country after years of misrule and tyranny by self-serving dictators. Instead, the silver mine and the wealth it has generated become a bone for the local warlords to fight over, plunging Costaguana into a new round of chaos. Among others, the revolutionary Montero invades Sulaco; Señor Gould, adamant that his silver should not become spoil for his enemies, entrusts it to Nostromo, the trusted "capataz de los cargadores" (head longshoreman).
Nostromo is an Italian expatriate who has risen to that position through his daring exploits. He is so named by his employer, Captain Mitchell. "Nostromo's" real name is Giovanni Battista Fidanza — Fidanza meaning "trust" in archaic Italian.
Nostromo is believed by Señor Gould to be incorruptible, and for this reason is entrusted with hiding the silver from the revolutionaries. He accepts the mission not out of loyalty to Señor Gould, but rather because he sees an opportunity to increase his own fame.
In the end it is Nostromo, together with a ruined cynic of a doctor and a journalist (all acting for self-serving reasons), who are able to restore some kind of order to Sulaco. It is they who are able to persuade two of the warlords to aid Sulaco's secession from Costaguana and protect it from other armies. Nostromo, the incorruptible one, is the key figure in setting the wheels in motion.
In Conrad's universe, however, almost no one is incorruptible. The exploit does not bring Nostromo the fame he had hoped for, and he feels slighted and used. Feeling that he has risked his life for nothing, he is consumed by resentment, which leads to his corruption and ultimate destruction, for he had kept secret the true fate of the silver after all others believed it lost at sea, rather than hidden on an offshore island. In recovering the silver for himself, he is shot and killed, mistaken for a trespasser, by the father of his fiancée, the keeper of the lighthouse on the island of Great Isabel.
Review: Detailing the history, landscape, political struggles, and desperate citizens of an entire imaginary South American country takes a lot of attention on the part of the reader (although it offers a rather bleak picture of human nature in which every major protagonist fails due to their internal flaws). Written in 1904, the story is told in a bizarre folding of time that circle around one main event, a failed revolution on the town of Saluco and the fate of its infamous silver mine that hangs like a weight around the characters' necks. Similarly the whole novel begins with a folk tale about buried treasure and the foreigners who were cursed trying to find it, a legend that not only finds symbolic repercussion in the significance and danger of material wealth, but also gets reenacted by characters within the plot.
Opening Line: “In the time of Spanish rule, and for many years afterwards, the town of Sulaco – its luxuriant beauty of the orange gardens bears witness to its antiquity – had never been commercially anything more important than a coasting port with a fairly large local trade in ox-hides and indigo.”
Closing Line: In that true cry of undying passion that seemed to ring aloud from Punta Mala to Azuera and away to the bright line of the horizon, overhung by a big white cloud shining like a mass of solid silver, the genius of the magnificent Capataz de Cargadores dominated the dark gulf containing his conquests of treasure and love.
Quotes: But the truth was that he died from solitude, the enemy known but to few on this Earth, and whom only the simplest of us are fit to withstand. The brilliant Costaguanaro of the boulevards had died from solitude and want of faith in himself and others.
Rating: Horrible.

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