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4.1 out of 5 stars
Almayer's Folly
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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.
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on February 14, 2003
Almayer's folly is a powerful beginning to Conrad's second profession, writing. Since the story was written so close to Conrad's adventurous youth (the spring for his most powerful works), it provides the rawest expression of Conrad's views. Almayer, the prototype of Tuan Jim, takes the "leap" when he marries the Malay captive for promised wealth. This transgression drops his character into contact with the cold truths of nature; truths which dispel any artificial illusions or meanings. For Almayer, these illusions entailed sucess and fame in Europe, a place that he had never visited but only heard about from his mother. Superficially, this journey towards inner truth involves a journey into the wilds of Borneo, but,like in future Conrad works, we quickly realize that the journey is inward into the pysche of Almayer. Overall, an excellent introduction to Conrad.
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on May 8, 2003
An alternative title for this novel could be Amayer's rut.
For that is the situation that the main protagonist in this novel finds himself in. Almayer is a European trader living in a
trading post somewhere in Indonesia or Malaysia with his daughter,a product of mixed marriage.
Almayer dreams of escaping to Europe after making himself wealthy and bringing his daughter with him also.
But as time drags on it becomes obvious that he is going nowhere with his life. He is not getting richer nor is he getting any younger. His own daughter ends up deserting him by eloping with a native who takes her to his own village.
Not being a pure European by blood she realizes that she would never be accepted as an equal among Europeans or the whites.
For this reason she chooses instead to live with the natives.
As for Almayer he remains as he was.
He is an example that one can find everywhere in the world.
Someone stuck in a situation going nowhere but always dreaming of getting out and changing his life.
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on July 21, 2000
I was surprised to find out this was Conrad's first book. I expected an awkwardness of a writer refining his skill, but what I found was a captivating, accessible and satisfying story. It has suspense and romance as well as the tragedy that Conrad is known for. I think the young characters and themes make this book far more accessible to a young person than the standard required Conrad novel--Heart of Darkness. Almayer's Folly is an excellent introduction to Conrad's work.
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As this is Conrad's first novel, it is not fair to expect the sort of power that illuminates his later works. However, Almayer's Folly is a good, solid novel which shows the potential for Conrad's later greatness. A love story at its heart, Almayer's Folly also provides a last look at classical imperialism and the crossroads of multiple cultures. A short novel, I would heartily recommend it.
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on January 15, 1999
This was Conrad's first novel, and I think it's an underappreciated jewel. It's written with a typical Victorian plotline, and one part of it has a romantic couple seeking their own happy ending, but don't be mistaken - it's real Conrad, so there's the glorious Conradian gloom, fear and descent into madness, too. It's a tale about a Dutchman in a business-gone-bad stranded in the Indonesian boondocks with his witch-like Malay wife who wishes him all the ill in the world. His only hope in life anymore is for his beautiful daughter and he dreams constantly of getting her educated and married off back in Amsterdam so he can wash his hands of his island nightmare and go back to normal life in Europe. But she grows up, grows distant to him, and he's clueless about the reality that she's adopted the local style and wants to be there. A handsome Balinese prince seeks her hand and the plot cranks into motion, spinning to a thrilling climax. It's an interesting study of problems of interracial, intercultural interaction, as valid today as it was in the late 19th century. The visual picture it paints of the old Dutch East Indies - the rivers, the tangled jungle flowers and the wildlife is another of its finest points.
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on December 5, 2000
I refer to the Wordsworth Classics printing that contains the short stories 'Tales of Unrest'. 'Almayer's Folly' is an engaging novel that kept my interest despite being read in a haphazard way during travel. My favourite quote from the novel is: 'But a man busy contemplating the wreckage of his past in the dawn of new hopes cannot be hungry whenever his rice is ready.' I enjoy the convoluted paragraphs that Conrad constructs that are surprisingly transparent for the reader - an extraordinary achievement for a man with English as his second language. He really does show the power of the language to richly counterpoint ideas of place and people. What, I wonder, was Conrad's skill with his native language? 'The Return' is a story of such mundane environment that I wondered if I was reading Conrad, but the unfolding of the narrative soon restores my impression. is there some Anna Kavan here? (or is Conrad in Kavan?).
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