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Almayer's Folly

219 pages3 hours


The Story of a Man Blinded by His Greed of Gold

“The well-known shrill voice startled Almayer from his dream of splendid future into the unpleasant realities of the present hour. An unpleasant voice too. He had heard it for many years, and with every year he liked it less. No matter; there would be an end to all this soon.” - Joseph Conrad, Almayer's Folly

Dutch Kaspar Almayer, a trader married to a native Malayan and father of one daughter Nina, is obsessed with wealth. He seeks in vain the lost treasure of Borneo and waits for the British conquerors in his unfinished house named by a fellow seaman ‘Almayer’s Folly.’ A local prince in love with Nina swears to help the Dutch find the gold but can he be trusted?

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Almayer's Folly - Joseph Conrad

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I read this when I was a senior in high school and made no mention of it one way or the other while I was reading it. I do not think I mush appreciated it since Conrad does not write down to his readers.
This one was a challenge for me.....I struggled initially with who all the characters were, especially with respect to names, titles, and positions in the social structure all being interchanged in the narrative......thus with confusing multiple references to the same characters, and with the significance of all the racial implications not readily clarified for me, I found myself puzzled a lot early on.....however, I persevered as always and the story eventually began to gel.......and a somewhat dark and sad tale it was.....hopes of riches dashed, living only for others without shared dreams and goals is a recipe for failure, and the bringing together of very diverse cultures to form a family can sometimes create insurmountable challenges. Somewhat interesting at best.....but that is all I can say.....a rare under 3 star rank for me.....proceed at your own risk.
This has been sitting on my shelves for many years, either unread or completely forgotten: I returned to it after reading Ocean Sea and wondering where Barrico got the name "Almayer". As Kennewell says, it's a beautifully written little book, sometimes a touch too poetic, perhaps, but it isn't too easy for a modern reader to identify with the subject-matter. It's probably more sexist than racist in the assumptions it asks us to make about the characters: Conrad makes it clear that Mrs Almayer's nastiness comes from the nature of her upbringing and the way she's been treated by white people, not from her race. But really, reading between the lines, we know that she's despicable because she's a woman who won't accept the submissive role the world sets out for her. Conrad doesn't even give her a name of her own...
Conrad's prose is beautiful. His understanding of human nature is complete. Almayer's Folly is a tragic tale of hopes thwarted by the hardship of life and the weak spirit of one man. Almayer's Folly is the name given to the house built by the titular hero to house his family and demonstrate his wealth and success. It is also the theme of his life - from presuming he would inherit the fortune of his boss by marrying his adopted daughter, to thinking he could throw that daughter off when he no longer needed her, and his belief that his position as the only white man on the east coast of Malaysia would secure his fortunes. He is a weak man, who can't rid himself of the angry woman who has been forced to marry, can't prevent his father in law from taking his own daughter from him, and ultimately can't make reparation with his only child. In the middle is a love story, told simply and perfectly. It's only a short book, but it properly filled my brain.
This is one of Conrad's early novels, and I found the pace to be a bit slow for me. Conrad developed an excellent sense of place in the novel. One gets a feel for some of the customs of the region as well from the moment he agrees to marry Lingard's Malay daughter. It shows how this and other circumstances and choices led to his ruin. He seems to be driven by the desire to acquire wealth. Some of the characters lacked depth. Conrad's later novels are more engaging to the readers.
Conrad's first novel, with an good sense of place (though as someone else noted, not so much of geography) and very interesting characters, not so well developed. Not bad (not bad at all) but I was left feeling like I didn't really get why characters were doing what they did.
After a bit of a slow start and being nagged by thoughts that this story seemed oddly familiar to me (even though I have never read anything by Conrad before now), I found this to be a rather interesting read. Conrad has a bit of the romantic in him, which comes through in this story. Conrad does a wonderful job capturing the exotic nature of a steamy tropical jungle in the Dutch East Indies, giving the feeling of separation from the rest of the world. This is kind of an anti-adventure story, given that Almayer’s attempts to gain wealth have been on-going for more than 20 years. Almayer’s continued attempts are those of a man obsessed and no longer in touch with reality, not the enthusiasm of adventuring heroes. The title is an apt one. Almayer’s life is one filled with folly, which seems to have started when he agreed to marry Lingard’s adopted Malay daughter. Every aspect of Almayer’s life is one of misdirection, lack of respect and unrewarding toil. Even the house he built on the river as a showcase for his dreamed of wealth is an unfinished ruin. Conrad’s attack on colonialism/resource-based imperialism runs counter to what one usually expects in an exotic adventure story. Conrad does a wonderful job charting Almayer’s decline. for this very reason, this is a rather dark story of human ruin. For a first novel, I found it to be rather well written, without any of the awkwardness or teething pains of a first time author.