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)

Advertisements

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom! is probably Faulkner’s greatest and most difficult novel covering the rise and fall of the Sutpen dynasty and a great allegory of the rise and fall of the Old South.

The book told through three interconnected narratives tells the life story of Thomas Sutpen. The story simultaneously covers the rise of the Old South. The narratives are not straight forward and present a constant disturbing challenge to the reader (Dyslexics beware!). But if the one does not close the book in despair the rewards are great indeed.

The mood of the storytelling alone is worth the price of admission here. The long flowing sentences are marvels and testaments to Faulker’s skill as a writer. The narrative drive makes reading the book almost like reading an epic Greek tragedy. We get multidimensional views of Sutpens life from several townspeople and also across generations.

Complete this and you would have certainly accomplished something. You don’t so much read this novel as you become lost in it. Jump in get your feet wet and prepare for some of the most intense Southern gothic that you are ever likely to read.

First time readers of Faulkner would probably want to test the water by dipping your toes into As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury first.

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

Gandhi Naked Ambition by Jad Adams

Father of the nation, spiritual leader of India’s independence movement, pioneer of non-violent resistance through mass civil disobedience, Mohandas K. Gandhi has been an inspiration to movements for civil rights and political freedom across the world.

This book depicts Gandhi’s searing ambition, involving the ceaseless creation of an image from London dudester to simply attired; his sacrifice of his family for his principles; and the tragedy of partition in which he became not the father of India, but of Pakistan, through his refusal to accept a constitutional settlement

Gandhi: Naked Ambition potrays Gandhi as a guru in the style of later popularisers of Indian ideas such as the Maharishi and Osho and shows how he operated a similar control over every aspect of the lives of his followers. This book is able to offer the most explicit account yet of Gandhi’s sexual experiments with the wives of his followers and his teenage grand-nieces.

Jad Adams traces the course of Gandhi’s multi-faceted life, and the concomitant development of his religious, political and social thinking. Gandhi’s life is covered from his comfortable upbringing in a princely state in Gujarat, via his training as a barrister in London to his early civil rights campaigns in South Africa, his leadership role in the Indian National Congress and unsuccessful struggles to unite the interests of Muslim activists and orthodox Hindus; through the campaigns of non-cooperation and civil disobedience in the 1920s and 1930s that made him a world icon.

Jad Adams explores the many contradictions of this most complex of men: a lifelong pacifist whose treatment of his wife and sons bordered on cruelty; a self-denying ascetic who preached the virtues of chastity in marriage yet experienced a high degree of intimate physical female contact; a political radical whose resistance to racism and appreciation of the value of all religions strike a thoroughly modern note, but whose vision of India was the almost medieval one of a village nation sustained by farming, spinning and weaving.

Jad Adams is an independent historian working as an author and television producer. His books include The Dynasty, a composite biography of the Nehru family; Tony Benn, a full length biography of the leading radical and Kipling. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and is a Visiting Research Fellow of the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

More about the book and a Q&A
http://www.jadadams.co.uk/4765.html

Gandhi  Naked Ambition by Jad Adams

Dead End Gene Pool – Wendy Burden

The great-great-great granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt gives readers a grand tour of the world of wealth inside the family that was her side of the Vanderbilt dynasty, bringing American class structure, sibling rivalry and the decline of the bluebloods vividly to life. It is a wonderful read. This is a dark and humorous memoir Wendy Burden.

For generations the Burdens were one of the wealthiest families in New York, thanks to the inherited fortune of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt. By 1955, the year of Wendy’s birth, the Burden’s had become a clan of overfunded, quirky and brainy, steadfastly chauvinistic, and ultimately doomed bluebloods on the verge of financial and moral decline-and were rarely seen not holding a drink. In Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy invites readers to meet her tragically flawed family, including an uncle with a fondness for Hitler, a grandfather who believes you can never have enough household staff, and a remarkably flatulent grandmother.

At the heart of the story is Wendy’s glamorous and aloof mother who, after her husband’s suicide, travels the world in search of the perfect sea and ski tan, leaving her three children in the care of a chain- smoking Scottish nanny, Fifth Avenue grandparents, and an assorted cast of long-suffering household servants (who Wendy and her brothers love to terrorize). Rife with humor, heartbreak, family intrigue, and booze, Dead End Gene Pool offers a glimpse into the fascinating world of old money and gives truth to an old maxim: The rich are different…

Dead End Gene Pool - Wendy Burden