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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The hypocrisy of the white man, 20 Feb 2008
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
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This excellent short novel is very representative for Joseph Conrad's work. Its main theme of the foolish, dangerous and deadly dreams of colonialists was also treated in his short story `An Outpost of Progress' (in 'Tales of Unrest') and in his masterpiece `Heart of Darkness'.

The main character in this story dreams of finding a mysterious treasure in order to be able to return to his homeland and live for the rest of his life in `untold wealth'.
For the indigenous, he is not more than another `white man that comes to us to trade, with prayers on his lips and loaded guns in his hands.' He shows `the same manifestations of love and hate and of sordid greed chasing the uncertain dollar in all its multifarious and vanishing shapes.'
He is bitterly confronted with `the savage mood which civilization could never destroy'.

For Conrad, `no two beings understand each other', so certainly not the `savage' and the `white man'.
More, the `uncompromising sincerity of Malay kinsmen' stands in sharp contrast with `the sleek hypocrisy of white people with their vivid but foolish dreams'.

This novel has not the same high standard as `Heart of Darkness', but should not be missed.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conrad's astonishing debut, 4 July 2007
Conrad's first novel is also one of his best. The writing has an easy flow and the story is involving. It's amazing how a man that only started learning English when he was 22 years old, and who was a practitioner at an entirely different craft (seamanship) can write like this.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The White Man's Burden, 24 Oct 2013
J C E Hitchcock (Tunbridge Wells, Kent, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Joseph Conrad was one of the most remarkable characters in the history if literature. He was born in the city of Berdichev, today in the Ukraine and during his lifetime part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union, but always regarded himself as Polish (even after becoming a British citizen) rather than Russian or Ukrainian. All his novels were written in English, even though this was not his first language (Polish) or even his second (French). Although he lived for most of his adult life in Britain, most of his novels are set abroad, often outside Europe, in parts of the world which he had visited during his career as a seaman.

"Almayer's Folly", published in 1895, is his first novel, set in a part of Borneo which at that time was part of the Dutch East Indies. The title character Kaspar Almayer is a Dutch trader. At least, Almayer is regarded as Dutch because of his white skin and European heritage, but in fact he was born in the Indies and has never actually visited Holland. In his youth he was regarded as a young man of promise, and became first the protégé then the son-in-law of a successful Australian trader named Tom Lingard, marrying Lingard's adopted Malay daughter. Over the years, however, the prosperity of the business has faded and Almayer now finds himself running an unsuccessful trading post in a remote jungle location on the east coast of Borneo.

Almayer's marriage has also been unsuccessful, and he and his wife have come to despise one another. The one great love of his life is his beautiful mixed-race daughter Nina. He still has hopes of achieving great wealth, centred upon his belief that he will be able to find a mysterious goldmine said to exist somewhere in the interior of the island, and dreams that when he is wealthy he will be able to return to Holland, the supposed "homeland" he has never seen, where he will live in luxury and find a rich European husband for Nina. The title "Almayer's Folly" refers (on one level) to the nickname given by Dutch seamen to the large, lavish, unfinished house which he has built for himself and his family.

On another level, however, "folly" can also mean "stupidity" or "foolishness", and Almayer is in many ways a foolish man. His dreams of finding gold are little more than self-delusion, and his idea of marrying Nina to a wealthy or aristocratic European seems unrealistic. In his isolation from white society he has failed to take into account the racial attitudes which prevailed in the late 19th century. Few upper-class white men of this era would have entertained the idea of marriage to a mixed-race woman, however physically attractive she might be, even if her father owned a goldmine. Although Almayer is himself married to a Malay wife, he is horrified when Nina falls in love with a handsome native prince named Dain Maroola. Almayer may think of himself as a Dutchman, but he has little political loyalty to Holland, and is happy to sell gunpowder to Dain in defiance of Dutch law.

In some ways Conrad's racial attitudes are also those of his day; the non-white characters, especially the witch-like Mrs. Almayer, the slave-girl Taminah and Babalatchi, the factotum of the local Rajah, tend to come across as exotic savages and are less well-drawn than Almayer himself. The determined, defiant Nina may be an exception, but it is notable that the Malay characters (apart from her lover Dain) see her as shameless and immodest, something they attribute to her white blood; they would never allow their daughters to defy them in the way she defies Almayer. This is not an anti-colonial novel in the sense of one written to make propaganda for a transfer of political power from the Dutch back to the indigenous peoples of the Indies.

On the other hand, this is not a pro-colonial novel either. Indeed, Conrad's attitude towards colonialism is unusual for a novel written by a European during the 1890s, a period when many Europeans were enthusiastic supporters of their overseas empires. (This was, for example, the decade which saw the publication of Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden"). Perhaps his position was influenced by the fact that he was a native of a European country which had itself effectively been colonised by its powerful neighbours. Kaspar Almayer is the representative of white European civilisation at a time when white Europeans saw themselves as the self-confident masters of the world, yet he ends the novel a broken, defeated man, defeated partly by his native adversaries, partly by the unforgiving nature of the country itself, and partly by his own folly. He is a white man struggling under a burden rather different from the one imagined by Kipling. Although the jungles of Borneo are about as different from the Wessex countryside as one could imagine, Almayer reminded me strongly of Michael Henchard in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge", another unsuccessful businessman who invests all his hopes in his only daughter.

Unusually for a Victorian novel "Almayer's Folly" is at well under two hundred pages a short one. Its brevity, however, is a strength in that the swiftness with which Almayer's downfall is narrated increases the tragic impact of the story. Despite its shortness, however, Conrad still finds time for numerous descriptive passages, his lush prose evoking the sights and sounds of his tropical setting. The occasional faulty construction or un-British sounding usage reminds us that Conrad was not a native English speaker, but overall this is a most impressive first novel.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tropical Trading Post Drama, 25 Jan 2011
SPOILER ALERT,SPOILER ALERT.This tale of the misfortunes of the manager of a Malay trading post and his failing dreams born of avarice, leading to his mental breakdown and subsequent demise,is not as dark as you'd expect ,as you never feel any sympathy for the main character.END OF SPOILER ALERT.
The novel is the template for much of Conrad's best work, based on what I assume was the first hand observation of colonialism in the southern hemisphere and the effects of a tropical climate and culture on the men who pioneered trade there.
At the start his writing style is slightly less convoluted than his later works ,but the seeds of his luscious and verdant verbosity are evident in his scenic descriptions and draw you into the torpid rain forest just as in later works they are used to draw you into the tortured psyches of his doomed characters.
If your thinking about reading Conrad then this is the place to start as some of his more well known work can be hard going for the uninitiated or those who are more acquainted with modern fiction with a less lively use of vocabulary.If you've read earlier works you will not be disappointed.
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