Joseph Conrad gets an extra special spot in Writerland; his first language was Polish but he wrote in English. Brilliantly. Not many writers can do this – Nabokov was Russian but wrote in English,
Agota Kristof was Hungarian but only wrote in French – there are a few others.
And no matter how great we find their books, there is always the nagging green man in your head saying “would this book have been beyond genius if he’d written it in Polish first?”
We won’t know now, will we? But I suggest other reasons for greatness.
In the spirit of transparency, I must tell you that I read this book for fun; I didn’t study it. I came to it late: like after marriage. (And I didn’t marry until I was wearing corrective shoes,) I had seen Apocalypse Now more times than is normal, but I love that movie, hallucinogenic, beautiful, pointless, stupid. Just like Vietnam. The Director’s Cut is best.
I began reading Heart of Darkness and I anticipated Kurtz would give me the most trouble. He’d be the scariest, most threatening character. Jungle pressing in, choking wet air, opaque churning water, arrows, leaves morphing into spears and painted war faces, megalomania and murder in the airless hut.
I was so wrong. It wasn’t Kurtz at all. It was the girl that runs to the edge of the river – the native girl – she raises her arms up toward the sky and releases a blood curdling scream. The men on the boat don’t know her and have never seen her before. Because of the way Mr Conrad writes his story, the reader doesn’t know who she is either.
But I think I know now. She was the entire wildness of the world, the people who lived close to nature, nature itself. She burst from the jungle and screamed upward, a mourner almost 100 years before Earth would fall under such peril, many are forecasting its death. The danger that called her to river’s edge? A diesel engine firing up river in the very middle of a place so wild, no one one but a madman would go there.
Have any feelings about immigration? Try another of Mr Conrad’s gems, Typhoon.