Week 2 of my personal 2017-52-book-challenge. I read a book which was always high up on my list: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad which was inspired by Conrad’s own journey to Congo in 1890.
I always wanted to read this book as it is the basis of the best war movie ever made: Apocalypse Now. Francis Ford Coppola adapted the book but transposed the action to 1960s Vietnam.
Like the movie, the book is a challenging and psychedelic trip. It is poetic and cruel at the same time; a road trip without a road and overall an unsettling experience. The deeper the protagonist travels into the jungle the higher the sense of impending danger gets.
“Droll thing life is”
What it is about:
It is about a man who travels down a river to bring back a rogue ivory trader who is worshiped like a god by natives in the 19th century Congolese jungle.
Why it matters:
The book still heavily resonates over 100 years after it was written and it is probably Conrad´s finest work (though not very popular during his lifetime). It is not only about a personal hellish trip in 1890s Congo but also a strong condemnation of colonialism and racism. When the protagonist gets back from Africa he cannot stand modern western society anymore with its consumerism and cynical chase for money. At the end the reader asks himself if London or the Congo is the real heart of darkness. Historically Heart of Darkness is regarded by many literature critics as one of the first examples of modernism.
“Droll thing life is — that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a crop of inextinguishable regrets.”
The whole story is narrated in flashbacks. The narrator is unreliable and jumps back and forth in time. I am not sure why Conrad decided to tell the story in flashbacks. I guess he wanted to show what impact the protagonist´s experience in the Congo had on his later life. Maybe he did so because the story was based on his own memories. The narrator is his Alter Ego.
Orson Welles himself wanted to make Heart of Darkness his first film project. The film was never made for various reasons and is nowadays ranked highly in the list of the greatest movie never made. Orson went on to make Citizen Kane instead and the rest is film history.
What others said:
„Some of the story´s power comes from its eloquent denunciation of the conceit behind colonialism and some from the harrowing thought that humanity has actually behaved like this. But its real power for me is that when I next pick it up, I know I will feel something new.“ – Tim Butcher, The Telegraph –
Conrad claimed that he witnessed most of what happens in the book himself in 1890s Congo, saying it was “experience… pushed a little (and only very little) beyond the actual facts of the case”.
This proves again that life itself writes the best (and in this case) cruelest stories…