Nostromo: The Isabels

Iris Diensthuber [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Part II of Nostromo introduces a new set of characters: Antonia, the “liberated” yet refined daughter of the statesman Don Jose; Martin Decoud, a young journalist head-over-heels in love with Antonia; Hirsch the German trader; and even the title character himself, so notably absent from Part I, plays a major role in The Isabels.

Things have been heating up politically in Costaguana.  The frail presidency of Ribiera, ally of the mine owner Charles Gould, is threatened by the rebel Monterists, who are trying to take over the country and stage a military coup.  Gould can think of only his silver mine and his workers, putting his own and his wife’s safety at risk as he prepares to defend it.  Decoud, finding Antonia hard to win, decides to take up the political torch dropped by her aging father. Decoud’s determination, however, is to make their province independent, rather than trying to restore the entirety of the country – he trusts the power of the mine to preserve their economic autonomy.  As for Nostromo, he finds himself in a dangerous position when he is tasked with the mission of transporting the mined silver to a hiding spot in the Isabel islands.

Even though the plot picked up a bit, I found Part II continually difficult to follow and stylistically slow.  Conrad strives to set the stage with the romance between Antonia and Martin, but the chemistry just isn’t there, so the young lover’s desperation seems a bit silly rather than inspiring.  Nostromo is given a (rather questionable) backstory, but other than that, he’s a somewhat one-dimensional anti-hero, with no apparent aims in life than to win glory and stay out of debt.  Gould remains the most interesting character and the driver behind the plot, so it was a bit disappointing he barely made an appearance.

I still think the concept of the novel is excellent; the execution is just a bit weak at this point. I am hoping my patience will pay off in Part III!


  1. I mostly loved this book. I really remember Part I being difficult to get through as it moved so slowly. I really appreciated the fasted pace of Part II. Martin is silly but I thought that was realistic.


  2. i liked it too/ remember writing a book report on it in high school but that was quite a while ago and i of course never kept a copy of it… i second Brian's comment, although i was undoubtedly more confused about the plot than he was… or you.. as i recall, tho , it did initiate a period of reading more Conrad: some of his middle novels…


  3. I'm glad to say I'm still fairly early in my Conrad reading…need to read The Secret Agent, Almayer's Folly, etc. I really want to re-read Under Western Eyes, however. That one just blew me away!


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