Top positive review
A powerful tale of the East
on June 3, 2002
Loosely based on the life of a Dutch merchant, setting up a trading post along a river in the interior of Borneo, Conrad's novel 'Almayer's Folly' is actually about man's alienation from his environment and eventually himself.
Written during the heyday of western imperialism, when the great powers of Europe subjected the tropics to their rule, the tale of Almayer explores how the tropics actually devoured the individual westerner.
The main character of the book is a man obsessed. Chasing a dream, he completely loses touch with reality. Although on the surface it may seem that he is a white man gone native, Almayer hasn't got a clue what he is dealing with. He is blind to the schemings of his Malay wife and equally oblivious to the fact that his daughter is drifting away from him.
Admittedly, the book has 'orientalist' overtones but, then, Joseph Conrad is both a man of his time and a master of poweful prose, not a politically-correct scholar. The stereotypical mystique of Asia and the inscrutable oriental are exploited as a literary means to descend into the deeper levels of man's psyche. Just like the 'true heart' of Borneo and its inhabitants is hidden under layer upon layer of deceiving images, so is the core of each and every individual. The scariest place to travel is not the interior of an Indonesian Island, but the inner reaches of our own soul.
Almayer's Folly is one of the best novels ever written. Not only because of the author's masterful portrayals of character, but also due his astounding command of English. It is hard to believe that Conrad's first and second language were Polish and French: he only learned English as an adult. It is this combination of psychological understanding and extraordinary use of language that make him into a literary genius.