Sometimes the reason for reading the book is more interesting than the book
itself. Nostromo, by Joseph Conrad, is one of those books.
I refer to books like Nostromo as 'Sleepers,' my term for books which are
guaranteed to induce sleep. Other common Sleepers are:
1. the Bible
2. any type of spiritual reading
3. the Rosary.
Granted, the Rosary is not a book, but it is a study or meditation on the
life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord, and some of the events in the
life of the Blessed Mother. Lately, when I have had trouble falling asleep,
even the Rosary has not knocked me out. I have found that praying the 'Ave
Maria' and 'Pater Noster' in Latin do seem to put me to sleep.
I find that a good 'Sleeper' is necessary whenever I am on call at work.
When I get to my call room, often I can't sleep because of several things:
1. an uncomfortable bed, 2. no wife in bed(it's really hard to sleep
without her after 17+ years of marriage), 3. recent ingestion of coffee, or
4. just being a bit too wound up at work. After trying prayer and old
copies of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, I would reach for Conrad's book
Why I Read This Book
It is ironic that the book induces sleep in me when you consider how I first
got interested in reading the book. Back in 1979, a movie called 'Alien'
was released. I first heard about it from some friends of my grandparents
in Florida. I can still recall this retired couple talking about the movie
in 1979. It sounded as if the movie was so disturbing that people were
leaving the theater during the showing. I found it odd that this older
couple even went to it in the first place, let alone sat through it. Be
that as it may, it wasn't until years later that I saw the movie and I agree
that it was rather disturbing to watch. One little bit of information that
stuck in my head was the name of the space ship where most of the action
takes place: Nostromo.
I knew there had to be a reason for the odd name of the ship. Then one day
I came across Nostromo while looking for another book by Conrad - 'Heart of
Darkness,' the inspiration for the movie 'Apocalypse Now.' What the heck.
The book was cheap, and I ended up buying both of them.
When I got around to reading Nostromo, I noticed that it was a potent
soporific. All I needed to read was a paragraph or two and I would be off
to restful sleep. After a few weeks of rereading the same two pages, I
realized I had hit upon the perfect sleeper for the call room at work.
Sleep played an important part in the movie 'Alien' as well, which makes me
wonder if the name of the ship was inspired by the effects on the
screenwriter. In the movie, the main purpose of the ship is to transport
ore from one place to another, while the crew is hibernating Consider the
opening scene, where our ill-fated crew of the Nostromo is seen emerging
from suspended animation. For the remainder of the movie, the crew of
Nostromo are bent on killing the alien and getting back to sleep. The movie
even ends with the lone survivor settling in for a nice long nap. Sleep is
good, and the motto of the movie should have been 'In Space No One Can hear
Nostromo takes place in a fictitious Central or South American country
called Costaguana. It is located on the West, or Pacific Coast. The port
city, Sulaco, is near the San Tome silver mine. During a rebellion, the
mine owner puts a shipload of silver under the care of one Gian' Battista,
better known as Nostromo. The plan was for Nostromo to hide the ore until
the troubles died down in Costaguana. The silver disappears, and Nostromo
comes back with a story that it was lost at sea. What really happened is
that he secreted it in a place where no one else could find it. He realizes
after a while that the load of silver is not worth the financial stability
as it changes him:
"A transgression, a crime, entering a man's existence, eats it up like a
malignant growth, consumes it like a fever. Nostromo had lost his peace; the
genuineness of all his qualities was destroyed. He felt it himself, and
often cursed the silver of San Tome. His courage, his magnificence, his
leisure, his work, everything was as before, only everything was a sham. But
the treasure was real. He clung to it with a more tenacious, mental grip.
But he hated the feel of the ingots. Sometimes, after putting away a couple
of them in his cabin—the fruit of a secret night expedition to the Great
Isabel—he would look fixedly at his fingers, as if surprised they had left
no stain on his skin."
While I used the book more as a sedative than as a reading exercise, there
are some redeeming qualities in this book. The change of Nostromo's
character after he adds 'silver thief' to his resume is a great study in how
evil affects the 'totality' of man. Nostromo can be considered a metaphor
for the soul, where sin corrupts all of the many aspects of a good man, and
results in his ultimate ruin and death. Even at the point of death, the
sins of Nostromo tarnish his last moments of life.
Seriously, this book was hard to read and keep my attention. I went so far
as to record the first time something exciting happened – page 260. Conrad
spends a lot of time describing things, places, and people in rather
beautiful language. It is remarkable to think that English was not his
I recommend this as a book with some reservations - for language which is
offensive to various ethnic groups.