Nostromo (Review)

Labels: Great Works


Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard
Joseph Conrad, 1904
500 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May 2010

Many scholars have considered Nostromo one of the finest novels in the English language. If I lost you at the word "scholars," please don't let that be a deal breaker—Nostromo is a dense but compulsive read.

As he does in all his works, Conrad plumbs the depths of human frailty, offering an intimate study in psychology and human relations. Yet here he uses a vaster canvas to consider the wider political and economic world.

The plot revolves around a silver mine in Sulaco, a port town in the mythical Latin American country of Costaguana. 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 to be well spoken of." Well, you can see the tragic flaw right there. Even the most incorruptible are, ultimately, corruptible.

The book's psychological depth and narrative structure, with its distorted timeline, were innovative for the era. The huge array of characters and interactions have been compared to War and Peace. Irony abounds: the non-chronological plotline 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.

To read Nostromo is an undertaking, but a heroic one! It is rich, complex, and compelling. If you're up for it...don't miss this one!

Someday, I promise, to get a reading guide up for Nostromo...someday....

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