08 February 2012

Book Review: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, *****

Synopsis
Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad. It is widely regarded as a significant work of English literature and part of the Western canon. The story tells of Charles Marlow, an Englishman who took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. Heart of Darkness exposes the myth behind colonization while exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters--the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the European's cruel treatment of the natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil. Although Conrad does not give the name of the river, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and important Congo River, was a private colony of Belgium's King Leopold II. Marlow is employed to transport ivory downriver. However, his more pressing assignment is to return Kurtz, another ivory trader, to civilization, in a cover-up. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region. This symbolic story is a story within a story or frame narrative. It follows Marlow as he recounts from dusk through to late night, to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary his Congolese adventure. The passage of time and the darkening sky during the fictitious narrative-within-the-narrative parallel the atmosphere of the story.

About the Author
Joseph Conrad was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. In 1874 Conrad travelled to Marseilles, where he served in French merchant vessels before joining a British ship in 1878 as an apprentice. In 1886 he obtained British nationality. Eight years later he left the sea to devote himself to writing, publishing his first novel, Almayer's Folly, in 1895. The following year he settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. He continued to write until his death in 1924.

Review
A masterpiece about the greed of human nature and folly of men pursuing wealth and power at the cost of their sanity, and of their lives. The writing is disorganized, chaotic, crazy even, but that is exactly the kind of situation Conrad was trying to convey. If you get lost while reading, don't worry, you are supposed to! The Belgian occupation of the Congo was probably the cruellest of all colonial powers, at least as long as King Leopold was running the place as his personal fiefdom. (Things improved when the Belgian state took over at the begining of the XX century.) The value of life was close to zero, and the discrepancy between a white life and a black life could not have been starker. Even Africans often considered an African life worth next to nothing.

There are several additional editions of the book on Amazon.co.uk, including Kindle. Just click here to choose.



Here is the American edition with hardback, softcover and audio options.




Or click here to buy your copy on Amazon.com.


This book was made into a movie in the 1990s. Funny but Amazon only offers the DVD of this title in Italian. The movie, however, is not even close to the quality of the book. Roth does a good job, but the good news ends here. The location is a far cry from the majestic Congo river and the sequence of events is played out in an artificial way, makes it all feel very fake.

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