The history of a South American revolution. But on this leading theme there hang such a multitude of side-issues and of individual experiences that it is certainly the hardest of Conrad's novels to summarize. In this story of vast riches, of unbridled passions, of patriotism, of greed, of barbaric cruelty, of the most debased and of the most noble impulses, the whole history of South America seems to be epitomized.
Gulliver) my family all well, my wife heartily glad to learn that the fuss was all over, and our small boy considerably grown during my absence.
My principal authority for the history of Costaguana is, of course, my venerated friend, the late Don Jose Avellanos, Minister to the Courts of England and Spain, etc., etc., in his impartial and eloquent "History of Fifty Years of Misrule." That work was never published--the reader will discover why--and I am in fact the only person in the world possessed of its contents. I have mastered them in not a few hours of earnest meditation, and I hope that my accuracy will be trusted. In justice to myself, and to allay the fears of prospective readers, I beg to point out that the few historical allusions are never dragged in for the sake of parading my unique erudition, but that each of them is closely related to actuality; either throwing a light on the nature of current events or affecting directly the fortunes of the people of whom I speak.
As to their own histori
This is my third reading of this strange and remarkable book. As I began re-reading the first half of the story, I felt disappointed -- as if my taste as the young student who first read this book had somehow traduced me. There was no central figure in this story: It was certainly not Gian' Battista Fidanza, a.k.a. Nostromo, the handsome capataz de cargadores; nor was it Charles and Emily Gould, owners of the San Tomé silver mine; nor was it the host of other characters that Conrad parades before our eyes.
No, the star was the silver of the mine. During a revolution, Nostromo is charged with sailing a lighter-full of silver -- one of the quarterly shipments from the mine -- to safety and away from the greedy hands of the Monteros and Sotillo. Although there were three people on that lighter that sails away from Sulaco toward Great Isabel Island, what remains is a mystery, a mystery as all three came to evil.
If you see the book from the point of view of that inanimate object, the silver of the mine, you see how it calls the tune to which all the other characters dance. Some manage to survive its pull, such as the Goulds themselves, who see themselves as servants of great wealth, or Father, later Cardinal/Bishop Corbelán, who cares only for souls, or Dr. Monygham, who is too wounded from his own past in the ill-fated Republic of Costaguana to be anything more than a cynical presence.
Nostromo is indeed a great book, but one that requires to be taken on its own merits. Approach it with no preconceptions, and stick with it for the first hundred or so pages. Things happen slowly at first, but then all hell breaks loose. And the most heroic event of all, Nostromo's famous ride to Cayta to hook up with the troops of General Barrios, is seen only in retrospect.
Finally, we see into Nostromo's own mind -- and what we see is what the silver of the mine has done to him.