Past Masters 2: Sulaco, Nostromo, Baby That’s a No Go, Aruba, Havana, Down to Costaguana

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Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski emerged from one language into another to conquer it and then elevate it. As Joseph Conrad, he took equal care of his stories (the nearly Romantic drama of men and women tested in wild times by the extremes of nature) and of the heavily charged (sometimes, it must be admitted, tortuous) language in which those stories were couched. For evidence one may turn with confidence to 1904’s “Nostromo,” one of Conrad’s grandest achievements.

Trent Trent: Yo, “Nostromo” is a fascinating, nightmarish descent into the thumping heart of darkness; that’s where the monster is incubating. RIGHT IN THE CHEST. Yeah, I totally read this. The “Alien” novelization, right?

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Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: It is true that the merchant ships in which Ellen Ripley and company face sinister creatures in “Alien” and “Aliens” are called, respectively, the Nostromo and the Sulaco. The names do allude to “Nostromo,” (both novel and movie involve mining in a strange land, although I fail to see what other connection Ridley Scott was suggesting. Scott IS a Conrad fan: his debut, “The Duellists” is based on a Conrad short story.) Nostromo is a mysterious Italian cowboy in exile, a dutiful company man in the South American country of Costaguana. The company, a silver mine near the port of Sulaco, belongs to Charles Gould, a native Costaguanan of English ancestry who wants to create some sort of stability in the volatile nation, and so Gould has backed Presidente Ribiera, a dictator of a variety familiar to any traveler through the last century + of Latin American history. When a popular revolution led by General Montero threatens to end with the former dictator hanging from a banana tree, Gould commands Nostromo to smuggle his silver out of Sulaco, which Nostromo does, in the company of an inquisitive reporter named Martin Decoud, who prefers to drop French into conversation in a recherche manner. What follows will not be spoiled, except to say that Costaguana’s residents are never far from their historical misfortune.

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Scott Fitzgerald once said that “Nostromo” was the novel he would most have liked to write, but there are few sub-tropical nightmares in HIS bibliography. The novel that “Nostromo” would most directly go to influence is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” It’s no coincidence that the title of the “historical” tome chronicling Costaguana is “Fifty Years of Misrule”; and the similarities between Costaguana and Colombia, Sulaco and  Macondo, are undeniable. But Garcia Marquez at least believed in some sort of hopeful magic thinly coating the works of his town’s halting progress; Conrad believed in disillusion, mud around boots, lightning in the skies, and waves to drown the unwary.

Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: Conrad delights on words, so much so that it is sometimes hard to determine the extent of deliberation in his choice of names. Seems funny to me that Gould guards silver. The uprising of General Montero seeks to bring prosperity for the people of the mountains. Nostromo is a distortion of “nostro uomo,” our man. The French-loving Coude turns to madness: he is “coudee” (bent). “Costaguana” may be a scatological reference to the fertilizing guano littering the shores; to put it bluntly, this is a bat shit country. And (am I reading too much into things?) “Sulaco” breaks into French-Spanish-and English thusly: “Sous- La- Co,” that is, “Under The Company,” which is exactly the state of the town.

Father Hank Hank: “Nostromo” could have been a good South American Western, (“Tortilla Western”?) I could almost picture a young Clint Eastwood in the titular role. But it’s all ruined by a weird structure that flashes forward and back for no better reason than to spoil itself, and by Conrad’s (what did Grandpa Felicius call it?) “heavily charged, tortuous” language. Let’s face it: Conrad’s “language” sounds like that because the man didn’t always have the best grasp on English.

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Tracey Tracey: DOWN WITH IMPERIALISM! Sure, Conrad may accurately capture the polyglot formation of South America, a continent just as predicated on immigration as ours, a surreal jungle-pressed land where Spanish, French, English, Portuguese, Italian, and German bump shoulders and tongues against each other. BUT where are the INDIGENOUS voices, huh?

Beatricia Beatricia: The Banana Republic ambiance is very authentic : explosive peasant revolution on January, failed attempt at democracy on February, left-wing dictatorship by March, a corrupt bureaucracy for a handful of weeks in the spring, right-wing coup d’etat in the heat of the summer, new military dictator overthrowing the OLD military dictator in September, oppression all fall long, explosive peasant revolution on January. Buy a new calendar. Do it all over again. In other words, we COULD have read a HISTORY OF COLOMBIA, (a place that happens to actually exist!) and instead we learned all sort of boring, useless lore about a made-up country. Might as well have wasted time on Westeros. When ARE we getting back to Westeros to catch up with the rest of humanity? NO CHERRY.

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “Emerged to Conquer– The Monster is Incubating– In a Strange Land.– A Distortion– All Ruined By– A Surreal– Useless Lore:– Westeros.”

3 out of 6 Cherries

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