Nostromo: (A Modern Library E-Book)

Nostromo: (A Modern Library E-Book)

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by Joseph Conrad

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

Originally published in 1904, Nostromo is considered by many to be Conrad's supreme achievement. Set in the imaginary South American republic of Costaguana, the novel reveals the effects of unbridled greed and imperialist interests on many different lives. Although each


Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time

Originally published in 1904, Nostromo is considered by many to be Conrad's supreme achievement. Set in the imaginary South American republic of Costaguana, the novel reveals the effects of unbridled greed and imperialist interests on many different lives. Although each character's potential for good is ultimately corrupted, Nostromo underscores Conrad's belief in fidelity, moral discipline, and the need for human communion. The author himself described the book as 'an intense creative effort on what I suppose will remain my largest canvas.'

'Conrad endeavored to create a great, massive, multiphase symbol that would render his total vision of the world, his sense of individual destiny, his sense of man's place in nature, his sense of history and society,' observed Robert Penn Warren. 'Nostromo is the most strikingly modern of Conrad's novels,' said V. S. Pritchett. 'It is pervaded by a profound, even morbid sense of insecurity which is the very spirit of our age.'

This volume is the companion to the acclaimed multipart series aired on Masterpiece Theatre.

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Random House Publishing Group
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Modern Library 100 Best Novels
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In the time of Spanish rule, and for many years afterwards, the town of Sulaco--the 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. The clumsy deep-sea galleons of the conquerors that, needing a brisk gale to move at all, would lie becalmed, where your modern ship built on clipper lines forges ahead by the mere flapping of her sails, had been barred out of Sulaco by the prevailing calms of its vast gulf. Some harbours of the earth are made difficult of access by the treachery of sunken rocks and the tempests of their shores. Sulaco had found an inviolable sanctuary from the temptations of a trading world in the solemn hush of the deep Golfo Placido as if within an enormous semi-circular and unroofed temple open to the ocean, with its walls of lofty mountains hung with the mourning draperies of cloud.

On one side of this broad curve in the straight seaboard of the Republic of Costaguana, the last spur of the coast range forms an insignificant cape whose name is Punta Mala. From the middle of the gulf the point of the land itself is not visible at all; but the shoulder of a steep hill at the back can be made out faintly like a shadow on the sky.

On the other side, what seems to be an isolated patch of blue mist floats lightly on the glare of the horizon. This is the peninsula of Azuera, a wild chaos of sharp rocks and stony levels cut about by vertical ravines. It lies far out to sea like a rough head of stone stretched from a green-clad coast at the end of a slender neck of sand covered with thickets of thorny scrub. Utterly waterless, for the rainfall runs off at once on all sides into the sea, it has not soil enough--it is said--to grow a single blade of grass, as if it were blighted by a curse. The poor, associating by an obscure instinct of consolation the ideas of evil and wealth, will tell you that it is deadly because of its forbidden treasures. The common folk of the neighborhood, peons of the estancias, vaqueros of the seaboard plains, tame Indians coming miles to market with a bundle of sugar-cane or a basket of maize worth about three-pence, are well aware that heaps of shining gold lie in the gloom of the deep precipices cleaving the stony levels of Azuera. Tradition has it that many adventurers of olden time had perished in the search. The story goes also that within men's memory two wandering sailors--Americanos, perhaps, but gringos of some sort for certain--talked over a gambling, good-for-nothing mozo, and the three stole a donkey to carry for them a bundle of dry sticks, a water-skin, and provisions enough to last a few days. Thus accompanied, and with revolvers at their belts, they had started to chop their way with machetes through the thorny scrub on the neck of the peninsula.

On the second evening an upright spiral of smoke (it could only have been from their camp-fire) was seen for the first time within memory of man standing up faintly upon the sky above a razor-backed ridge on the stony head. The crew of a coasting schooner, lying becalmed three miles off the shore, stared at it with amazement till dark. A Negro fisherman, living in a lonely hut in a little bay near by, had seen the start and was on the lookout for some sign. He called to his wife just as the sun was about to set. They had watched the strange portent with envy, incredulity, and awe.

Meet the Author

Joseph Conrad was born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in Russian-occupied Poland on December 3, 1857. His parents were aristocrats and intensely nationalistic political activists who were exiled to Vologda, northeast of Moscow, for their opposition to tsarist rule. Józef's mother, Ewa, died in 1865 of tuberculosis, and his father, Apollo, succumbed to the same disease four years later. Józef was cared for by his uncle Tadeusz Bobrowski until the young man acted on a long-expressed desire to go to sea. In 1874 he left for Marseilles, where he began sailing for the French merchant service.

In 1878, in money difficulties and no longer able to sail on French vessels because he had not secured an exemption from military service in Russia, Conrad attempted suicide. After his recovery, he left Marseilles on a British ship and went to England, where he worked the route between Lowestoft and Newcastle. He arrived in England virtually without qualifications and with very little English, but he was able in a few years to earn his master's certificate in the British merchant marine and became a British national. Conrad traveled to Mauritius and Constantinople, worked on wool clippers from London to Australia, and sailed the waters of the Far East. These voyages were punctuated by long periods when he could not find suitable positions because of the decline in sail-powered transport in the age of the steamship.

Conrad began writing in English, which became his language of choice after his native Polish and French, although he complained of difficulties with English grammar and syntax. His voyages provided the background for much of his fiction. 'Youth' and 'Typhoon' draw on Conrad's personal experience with disasters at sea. In 1881, he became second mate on the Palestine, a ship that was rammed, caught in tempestuous gales in the English Channel, had its cargo of coal catch fire, and sank off Sumatra. His captaincy of the Otago from Bangkok in 1888 informs The Shadow-Line (1917) and the stories 'Falk' and 'The Secret Sharer.' Heart of Darkness (1899) is drawn from an expedition to the Belgian Congo in 1890. He was already working on a novel when he traveled to the Congo, where he expected to take command of a river steamer. The assignment failed to materialize, and Conrad fell dangerously ill. On his return to England, he was forced to find work as a ship's mate. He was able during this period of intermittent employment to devote more time to his writing, and in 1894 he submitted the novel Almayer's Folly to the publisher Fisher Unwin. Unwin published it in 1895 under the anglicized version of Conrad's Polish name.

Conrad was encouraged to continue to write by Unwin's reader Edward Garnett, although he went on applying for posts as a ship's captain. He finished The Outcast of the Islands in 1895 and in 1896 married Jessie George. They had two sons, Borys and John, born in 1898 and 1906. Constantly in need of more money, Conrad produced short stories and serialized his novels. Although plagued by physical illness and psychological problems, he established one of the most formidable bodies of work in the English language. His longer works include The Nigger of the 'Narcissus (1897), Lord Jim (1900), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), Under Western Eyes (1911), and Victory (1915). Nostromo, set in the imaginary South American republic of Costaguana, is considered by many critics to be Conrad's best work and by some to be the finest novel of the twentieth century.

From early in his career Conrad had the admiration of fellow writers--Stephen Crane, John Galsworthy, Henry James, and Ford Madox Ford, with whom Conrad collaborated on The Inheritors (1901) and Romance (1903). It was only after the success of Chance (1913), however, that his writing afforded him widespread recognition and relative financial security. He spent his declining years in Kent, often in ill health, and died on August 3, 1924, at his home near Canterbury.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 3, 1857
Date of Death:
August 3, 1924
Place of Birth:
Berdiczew, Podolia, Russia
Place of Death:
Bishopsbourne, Kent, England
Tutored in Switzerland. Self-taught in classical literature. Attended maritime school in Marseilles, France

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Nostromo 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Livingstone More than 1 year ago
I really struggled to get through this book. I mean really, really struggled. Whereas I can usually get through a book this size in about 10 days, it took a month and was highly unenjoyable for the first half. Now I really didn't like Heart of Darkness to begin with, but this story is completely written differently. In that book as well as Lord Jim, Conrad uses Marlow as a narrator who tells a progressive, linear story. I hear that Nostromo is written in a way similar to Ulysses, In Search of Lost Time, and To The Lighthouse in that it is not a flowing, chronological story--but a sting of scenes that appear in an order that has no rhyme or reason. It's supposed to be part of the "fun" for the reader to piece together, but I found it difficult when the author digresses to something that happened who knows when in relation to the main plot. The characters were also hard to form a picture of as Conrad refers to each one with several different names. Nostromo is also known as Capataz de Cargodores and Gran Battista--none of which are his actual name! And the way the author uses words from French, Italian and Spanish is also confusing, but the B&N Classics edition is good at providing footnotes. All of this notwithstanding, the basic plot is a good one. It has a moral and a powerful tone. Among the redeeming qualities, it compares the incorruptible, pristine silver to the "incorruptible" Nostromo (who barely appears in the novel until the latter half). At the end of the novel (a few pages from the finish), there is an exchange between said main character that did bring tears to my eyes and a sympathy to a seemingly incorruptible man. The message of the book is timeless, and that's why I suspect this is hailed as one of the best of all time--though I considered it a tough read. Conrad considered it something, but not what he was hoping for. I agree, but I'm glad I read it. Conrad was rushed by his publisher and even had to have Ford Maddox Ford help him with the manuscript (thanks for an informative introduction Barnes and Noble). If one wishes to try their hand at reading this, I suggest not to get bogged down trying to keep track of all the characters or what's happening to whom--hang in there until Deccoud's letter to his sister (about halfway) and it will become much better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
NOSTROMO was a long book to get through - I had to stop a few times to look up a word in the dictionary, but it was a fascinating story that sparked me into critical thought. However, this is not a book for someone looking for a quick literary revelation, so to speak. Even as an advanced placement (AP) English student in the middle of my senior high school year, it took patience and concentration to get drawn into this book. But once that was done, the richness of the characters, the descriptive narratives, intricate symbolism, and enlightening themes drew me into the author's mind. And having finished NOSTROMO, it would almost be an understatement to say that Conrad must have been brilliant. If you absorb this book with all of its essential elements, it is absolutely incredible what lessons you can learn for your life just from the pages.
Atthebeach More than 1 year ago
Decided to read Nostromo when I read that F. Scott Fitzgerald said if he could have written any book, it would be Nostromo. High praise. I think if Fitzgerald had written it, it would have been at least 100 pages shorter. It is high literature. The writing is colorful and even elegiac at times. There pages and pages of description without any action. And chapters and chapters of dialogue without action. It takes a very long time to get into the plot or even know what it is. But I knew I was reading something great and kept going. The first half was very slow. The third quarter started to fill out the story. And the last quarter tells the whole of the story. By the end, I was very happy that I stayed with it. The characters, once totally revealed, the full story, once totally told, are grand. The ending is far beyond imagining. It takes some patience, but it is very worth the read.  
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I didn't finish the book. The characters were two-dimensional, the exposition difficult to follow, and the premise disappointing.
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Lays around boredly