Friday, May 30, 2008

Modern Library's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century Quest: #85

Title: Lord Jim
Author: Joseph Conrad
Judgin' the Book By Its Cover: No photo available of this cover, folks, so instead I'll treat you to an awesome photo of the impressive Joseph Conrad. That's a 'stache and a half!!

Thoughts: This was a story about courage, cowardice, escape, and redemption, a deep, dense exploration of "the soul of man". It tells of a young, romantic sailor who, in a defining moment, makes the wrong choice and wrestles with the consequences thereafter. One noteworthy thing about this book is that the idea of forgiveness (of one's self and by others) is nearly absent-- once Jim makes his mistake, he is doomed to wander through the remote jungles of the earth to escape from its legacy. Needless to say, it was very difficult for me to relate to this worldview. Also, Conrad's writing is intensely steeped in colonialism, and his remarks about race (and even gender) are frequently off-putting (at best). It was hard to tell from his tone if he was critiquing and satirizing the idea of the white man as a supreme being or if he was stating that idea as fact. I would have really liked to discuss this book in a classroom setting-- there was a lot going on, and it was difficult to draw out all the themes alone.

Tangentially, it was interesting to read this book after recently watching Hearts of Darkness, the film documenting F. F. Coppola's trials and tribulations on the set of Apocalypse Now (an adaptation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness). If you haven't seen either movie, close this window and Netflix 'em now! Apocalypse Now is one of the best film adaptations ever, and Hearts of Darkness is a must-see for a filmmaker.

One final thought: Conrad, considered one of the foremost novelists of the 20th century, wrote these novels after learning English in his mid-twenties. English was his third language (after Polish and French)! That's amazing/depressing-- the man wrote far better in English than I ever will... and it wasn't even his SECOND language. I'm totally illiterate.

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