Book: Nostromo

Author: Joseph Conrad 

Review by: Jorge Fernandez, consultant, Pendleton Group, and former vice president of global commerce at the Metro Atlanta Chamber  

Jorge Fernandez

I previously came across a very engaging book on the enjoyment of fiction writing titled The Art of Distortion. Amid the various excerpts published in the anthology, a unifying concept that captured my interest was “magical realism”, a technique in which the author maintains a historically sound narrative while infusing elements of fantasy.  

Perhaps the most prominent title in this genre is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, the novel I read and discussed for Global Atlanta’s annual book review in 2019. My 2020 contribution flows from the same tradition, reflecting on the realities of Latin America’s struggle to shake off colonial exploitation.  

Nostromo, written by the British-Polish writer Joseph Conrad, is an obscure novel published 62 years before Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece. The Art of Distortion alerted me to it, calling the book the best work on Latin America’s socio-political state of affairs written by a non-native. F. Scott Fitzgerald heaped on the acclaim, adding: “I’d rather have written Conrad’s Nostromo than any other novel.”  

It’s easy to see why. The layered narrative takes place in the fictitious Latin American country of Costaguana, more specifically in its western province of Sulaco, providing an allegory to the succession of political regimes in Greater Colombia, and the subsequent independence movement of Panama. The storyline centers on the many issues facing countries in the region at the turn of the 20th century — struggles of integrity, obligation and iniquity. 

Core to the vivid story is a rich diversity of characters that comprise multiple ancestries; natives and expatriates intermingle, sharing values and influences all within Sulaco. The plot is anchored by a well-respected Italian man-of-the-sea named Nostromo, as well as a Costaguanan native of British ancestry, owner of a concession to a silver mine.   

Much like One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nostromo provides considerable insight into the historical, political and societal complexities that frame Latin America’s complex regional dynamics. Noteworthy is how Conrad, a non-native observer, is able to capture the essence of this society with his colorful narrative and descriptive dialogues.  

Editor’s notes: Global Atlanta will receive a 10 percent commission on any purchase of this book through the links on this page. also contributes 10 percent of the purchase price of each book to independent booksellers around the United States.

Each year, we ask influential readers and community leaders to review the most impactful book they read during the course of the year. This endeavor has continued annually since 2010. 

See last year’s full list of books on BookShop here, and all 2020 reader picks here. 

All books were chosen and reviews written independently, with only mild editing from our staff.

Read Global Atlanta Managing Editor Trevor Williams’ review of One Hundred Years of Solitude here:

Books 2016: A Colombian View on the Pioneering Human Spirit

Read previous reviews by Jorge Fernandez below:

Books 2019: Understanding Latin America Through the Magic of Historical Fiction

Books 2018: Cultivating America’s Soul Through Struggle

Books 2017: Complex Family Histories After Fleeing Nazi Germany for the Americas

Books 2016: Three Warnings Against Absolute Power

Books 2015: Understanding China’s World War II Experience

Books 2013: Murder, Intrigue and Architecture at the Chicago World’s Fair