Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness published as a graphic novel David Zane Mairowitz (Author), Catherine Anyango (Illustrator)

Joseph Conrad’s colonial fable Heart of Darkness has infected TS Eliot, been excoriated for racism by Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe and transplanted to Vietnam by Francis Ford Coppola is now out the form of a graphic novel.

Artist Catherine Anyango reveals how richly-detailed drawings reflect the dense style of Joseph Conrad’s savage colonial story.

Now the book has been reinterpreted as a graphic novel in whose monochrome pages Conrad’s exploration of power, greed and madness plays out as disturbingly as ever.

Catherine Anyango, whose drawings are peppered with David Zane Mairowitz’s adaptation of the text, had her doubts about tackling the Polish-born novelist’s most famous work.

Those reservations had more to do with the original medium than the enduring controversy over Conrad’s views or the familiarity of Heart of Darkness.

“I wasn’t sure initially if it was a good subject for a graphic novel as the writing is so dense and the style of it is partly what attracts me to the book,” she said.

“As I knew we couldn’t keep most of the text in, I tried to make the drawings very rich in detail and texture so that immersing feeling you get, especially when he describes the river and the jungle, was carried across.”

Anyango was determined not to allow the horror of the book’s subject matter to overwhelm her drawings. “I wanted to draw the reader in with seductive imagery, and then show them that even in the most beautiful of settings, terrible things can happen.”

There was also Coppola’s 1979 epic to contend with.

“I was too terrified to watch Apocalypse Now,” the Kenyan-Swedish artist said. “Partly because I didn’t want to end up with any similar visuals and also I had been warned that something nasty happens to a cow … Apocalypse Now is huge and well, apocalyptic, but Heart of Darkness is a much quieter story.” (Ahem!)

Anyango, who grew up in Kenya where she went to a British school, wanted to steer a course that was as true as possible to the original so that her version did not sink under the weight of too much intellectual baggage.

“When I was dealing with the book, I was focused solely on the particular events of the Congo, rather than colonialism in general,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to tell the history of colonialism either, but to situate this particular narrative in a way that people might ask: what on earth was the attitude of that time that these things could happen?”

To reinforce the geographical and historical immediacy of Conrad’s tale, the graphic novel is interspersed with excerpts from The Congo Diary – the journal Conrad kept of his 1890 voyage up the river.

Anyango’s research also led her to the story of a man from a village in the Upper Congo called Nsala. She came across a photograph of him sat on a step contemplating the hand and foot of his daughter, which had been cut off by guards sent to his village by the Anglo Belgian India Rubber Company. The men, ordered to attack Nsala’s village for failing to provide the company with enough rubber, devoured his wife and daughter, leaving only the child’s hand and foot.

“I put him on one page, and similar portraits on others, so the Congolese characters have resonance at least for me, even if they remain stereotyped because of the existing narrative,” she said.

In her efforts to ensure the authenticity of the uniforms she drew — the protagonist, Marlow, is given a cap with a prominent Belgian lion badge — Anyango was shocked to discover how markedly Belgian perceptions of the occupation of Congo still vary.

For some, it is a shameful episode in the country’s history, while others still view it as a benign experience despite the evidence uncovered by recent histories such as Adam Hochschild’s 1998 book, King Leopold’s Ghost, which laid bare the barbarism inflicted on Congo.

The artist found that Belgium’s colonial deeds “seem to have vanished into history, with the [country’s] education system not dwelling on anything but positive aspects of the colonial rule”.

That may not be not wholly surprising: at her school in Nairobi, Anyango did not learn about Britain’s colonies.

It is this creeping colonial amnesia — not to mention a catalogue of recent and current events — which, she argues, give Heart of Darkness both its relevance and its universality.

“It’s about the idea of entitlement; how through the ages we enforce our feelings of entitlement in whatever way that age will allow — from Leopold II owning the Congo as a private possession to the corporations involved with blood diamonds. The effects of entitlement have not so much gone out of fashion as out of sight.”

Dr Keith Carabine, who teaches literature at the University of Kent and chairs the Joseph Conrad Society, agrees that Kurtz, the ivory trader whose misplaced idealism has putrefied into savagery and madness, has become an archetypal figure.

“Heart of Darkness is the most important book in the last 100-plus years not because it’s the best, but because it anticipated how 20th century leaders with visions of bringing light and creating new models for humans beings – Hitler, Lenin, Pol Pot, Mao – all ended up,” he said. “When disappointed by the response of the very groups they wanted to save or help or transform, they, like Kurtz, wish to (and actually do, of course) ‘exterminate all the brutes!'”

Of the Edwardian novella’s continuing relevance, Carabine is unequivocal. “If Bush and Cheney and the neocons had read Heart of Darkness and understood it, they would not have invaded Iraq under the absurd utopian illusion that the Iraqis were gagging for democracy.”

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness published as a graphic novel David Zane Mairowitz (Author), Catherine Anyango (Illustrator)

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness published as a graphic novel David Zane Mairowitz (Author), Catherine Anyango (Illustrator)

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness published as a graphic novel David Zane Mairowitz (Author), Catherine Anyango (Illustrator)

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness published as a graphic novel David Zane Mairowitz (Author), Catherine Anyango (Illustrator)

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness published as a graphic novel David Zane Mairowitz (Author), Catherine Anyango (Illustrator)

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All the King’s men by Robert Penn Warren

With words that flow and caress and make use just the right amount of tiny details to get to the essence of the people that Robert Penn Warren describes.

This book is full of artful characterization and is most certainly worthy of a re-read. This is also a piece of history as the author brings alive the American South of 1920s and 1930s.

The story is about Willie Stark, man of humble beginnings who rose to a position of power as a governor of an unnamed Southern state and is supposedly loosely based on the life of Huey Long, the Governor of Louisiana. The main character is Jack Burden, the narrator of the story. He’s a reporter when he meets Willie Stark early on in his career and is there as witness to his political rise. Later, he works directly for Willie and becomes a key player in the blackmailing and political conniving that surrounds the Governor.

We get to know Jack through the people in his life as well as his own introspections and watch the orgy of events that grow in layers and complexity. Nothing is quite what it seems and there are multiple sub-stories that unfold as the basic action of the book trots along. Just when one begins to get grip of what is going one BAM! Yet another layer of depth and meaning explodes. In a very metaphysical way everything has an effect on everything else. This book is quite fast paced despite all the plots and sub plots going on and is quite impossible to put down.

This is not a read to be missed!

All the King's men Robert Penn Warren

Where the Wild Things Are by By Maurice Sendak, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)

Where the Wild Things Are is one of those rare books (along the lies of Dahl, Dr. Seuss…) that can be enjoyed equally by a child and a grown-up.

Max dons his wolf suit in quest of some mischief and gets banished to bed without supper. Fortuitously, a forest grows within the confines of his room, allowing his wonderful wild rampage to continue unhindered. Sendak’s color illustrations are blissful, and each turn of the page brings the discovery of a new wonder.

The wild things with their mysteriously mismatched parts and adorable giant eyes manage somehow to be scary-looking without ever really being disconcerting and at times they’re downright hilarious. Sendak’s defiantly run-on sentences lend the perfect touch of stream of consciousness to the tale, which floats between the land of dreams and a child’s imagination.

Children can really identify with Max and his rebellious thoughts. Upon banishment to his room for misbehavior, his imagination helps him to run away to where the wild things are and collect his thoughts. Sendak certainly remember what its like to be a child and feel like no one understands what you are basically feeling, and not quite understanding yourself. Ruling the wild things helps Max understand that he just wants to feel loved, and helps parents to keep in mind that such outbursts from children are essentially cries for attention – for someone to just love them. Mr. Sendak understands children! When you read this book it will transport you back to your own childhood and you will remember that lost feeling of being a child.

Where the Wild Things Are by By Maurice Sendak, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)

Where the Wild Things Are by By Maurice Sendak, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)

Where the Wild Things Are by By Maurice Sendak, Maurice Sendak (Illustrator)

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Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair

This is a story of a woman lost between two men (Quelle Horreur!), a husband and a lover, told from the lover’s point of view. The plot is very dramatic and the characters are unwittingly and wittingly involved in sadly one of the most common human predicaments – animalistic urges.

Greene’s style is absolutely delicious. There is not a single word or an activity wasted, and the tale is beautifully and compellingly told. This book is an amazing example of the finest literary composition, and and at times the understated manner in which these three character’s psychologies play together to enmesh the hearts of two men and the life of the woman is just plain and simply beautiful. This is also a spiritual novel, asking questions and at the same time attempting answers. And throughout, there is a strong sense of realism that one does not normally find in most romantic novels.

The characters seem to be real persons, whose lives are not dramatic or dramatized, but related in all their smallness, their dissatisfaction, their quest for understanding, and that inexplicable yearning for something more. This small book is extremely satisfying and haunting read. Anyone planning to write fiction, particularly romance (not that silly faffy fluffy titillating romance, but something meaningful), should become acquainted with this novel. It tells so much so very well. Enjoy!

Graham Greene's The End of the Affair

James Joyce’s mighty Ulysses, Podcast by Frank Delaney

To commemorate James Joyce’s mighty novel, Ulysses, Here’s a podcast. Every week you’ll find a five-minute mini-essay from Frank Delaney designed to take you through the novel that’s on every list of the greatest books ever written. And as Ulysses runs to some 375,000 words, Delaney goes through it, in order to convey the full brilliance of this novel – and the enjoyment to be had from it – It’s such an absorbing book, it’s got diamond mines of references, it’s so compassionate, so tender, so moving, so funny – and most of us never know that, because most of us have long been daunted by it. No need to be afraid any more – that is, if you make a habit of listening to these podcasts.

http://rejoyce.libsyn.com/rss

James Joyce's mighty Ulysses