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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

From Chaucer to Conrad and beyond: Nostromo

The fortune - that is, the silver mine in the mountains along the coast of Costaguana (ha!) in Joseph Conrad's Nostromo - was founded on slave labor and the death of hundreds or even thousands of natives. In a weird way this echoes the novel I read recently A High Wind in Jamaica in which the British settlers struggle in poverty after the end of slavery essentially ended the sugar cane - rum industry, the foundation of their wealth. In this Central/South American country, after slavery ended, the mine was left to go back to jungle and the silver was considered inaccessible and not worth the cost in (European) lives. But as the little country shakes of Colonialism and becomes independent and corrupt, one oppressive government after the next thriving on bribes and cronyism - one of the leaders gets the bright idea of "giving" the silver concession to one of the wealthiest European businessmen, Charles Gould (senior), but in receipt of the gift he must pay the government the "estimated" profit from the first 5 years of the mine. This ruins him, of course, but his son takes up the mine and turns it around, quite amazingly - and apparently aided by the mysterious Italian overseer, the eponymous Nostromo. It's a sstory about the waves of colonialism, about the corrupting influence of capitalism, and the corrupting influence of the pursuit of riches at all costs - a precursor, in a way, to the Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which of course is a narrative w/ roots as deep as Chaucer).

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