Rating: 3 stars
This is a wonderful novel, redolent with the atmosphere of 19th century South America, the coming of the railways, the exploitation of the land and minerals and the upheaval of revolution and dictatorship. The central character spends most of the novel in the background, a charismatic figure, more legend than flesh. The action centres on those who are reliant on his ability to get the workers to do what is necessary to make the colonials rich. Conrad as ever makes his characters believable. I felt very invested in the various stories. The only let down was the slightly OTT ending. The best bit was the plotting to become an independent state and Decoud’s passion for that cause. I wish I’d had the time to sit and read it without interruption, though, because it did require a level of concentration I don’t always have the luxury of affording a book!
I love Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West and Nostromo had a similar breathless, heart wrenching feel to it. It also put me in mind of Garcia Marquez’s writing, in a way. And we have an archive at work of a railway engineer who spent time in South America at the end of the 19th century that has photographs of a town centre with buildings pock marked by bullets as the result of a couple of local revolutions, so I had stored images to help me visualise it. I loved the description of the first time the screech of the train whistle being heard in the town. Gorgeous prose!