Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard
by Joseph Conrad
"Most dangerous to the wielder, too, this weapon of wealth, double-edged with the cupidity and misery of mankind, steeped in all the vices of self-indulgence as in a concoction of poisonous roots, tainting the very cause for with it is drawn, always ready to turn awkwardly in the hand. There was nothing for it now but to go on using it." (p 390)
With Nostromo Conrad plumbs the depths of human frailty, offering an intimate study in psychology and human relations. Unlike his other novels he uses a greater canvas to consider the wider political and economic world. That canvas is constructed from fragmented plots containing fractures and divides that interrupt the narrative to the point that the landscape seems to "vanish into thin air" (p 31).
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 potential for a tragic flaw right there. Even the most incorruptible are, ultimately, corruptible. In spite of that he continues to enjoy a favorable opinion from most because they see him not as he is but how they believe that he is. The differing views of Nostromo connect through his own inner strength that makes him ultimately the title character even though there are many more pages expended upon the plethora of other interesting characters in the novel; including, Charles Gould - owner of the mine, his wife Emilia, Martin Decoud, Dr. Monygham, Guzman Bento - a former dictator, and Ribiera - the current head of state.
The book's psychological depth and narrative structure, with its distorted timeline that travels backward and forward in time, were innovative for the era, marking this novel as one of the prime examples of a literary modernism that would within a couple of decades culminate in the works of Proust and Joyce. The huge array of characters and interactions have been compared by some to War and Peace. Irony abounds: the non-chronological plot line 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.
Ultimately the story hinges on the struggle between actions concerning the silver and love interests. While Gould's marriage succumbs to his passionate interest in the silver mine an even more fascinating turn of events yields a love triangle between Nostromo and two sisters Linda and Giselle. These events, along with many others, create an entertaining and intriguing novel. Told in Conrad's inimitable prose style this is one of his greatest achievements.
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