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 for myself by Norman Mailer

First appearing in 1959, “Advertisements for Myself” is one of the most far-out books ever published by a novelist. It containis stories, essays, reviews, interviews, novel excerpts and poems, along with, italicized annotations courtesy of the author, expect nothing less than raging talent assessing itself and the world around it. Advertisements for myself is sometimes, this book displays a massive, raging talent assessing itself and the world around it. It is sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes maddening, and an extremely compelling read.

Norman Mailer is ambitiously states his desire to write a novel on the level of Dostoyevsky, Mann and Tolstoy, and some hilarious assessments of his contemporaries. He has a commentary on the ups and downs of his career and his disgust and sadness about the decline of American literature are illuminating, but his self-aggrandizement and egocentricity could lead you to regurgitate. However, one should just stand in awe at the monument of his talent and his passion.

Reading this book today, one can ask – “Did he fulfill his expectations?” Read “Harlot’s Ghost,” “Ancient Evenings,” “The Executioner’s Song” and numerous other works, both fiction and nonfiction, and let me know if you think they will stand the test of time. The small sections of his self-promoted masterpiece make for very stimulating reading.

All in all, Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself is a required reading for anyone who loves great literature or aspires to write for themselves.


Advertisements for myself by Norman Mailer

I am number four by Pittacus Lore

Nineteen souls manage to escape the total destruction of their home planet Lorien, Nine children, little more than toddlers, sent to Earth to remain in hiding until their Legacies – special awesome powers and abilities that will allow them to fight Lorien’s conquerors – develop. All the hope for that lifeless planet but once beautiful, is wrapped up in these children, now teenagers who barely remember Lorien at all.

Those who sent the nine to Earth were well aware that the evil, dark and menacing destroyers of their planet, warriors of the Mogadorian race, would surely follow. The children are each hidden on Earth with an adult chaperon, someone who can guide them about their powers. They are separated, each moving frequently and having absolutely no contact with each other for their own saftey. The senders did all they could to protect the precious group, binding them and shielding them with the most powerful of Loric charms. The children can only be killed in a specific order. If a Mogadorian attempts to harm a child out of sequence the damage will bounce off the intended victim and destroy the Mogadorian instead.

Number One died four years after reaching the Earth, when Number Four was nine-years-old. Number Two followed three years later. Now Number Four is fifteen, attending high school in Florida and living under the name Daniel Jones. A new scar has just appeared on his ankle, the third such scar. It means Number Three has died. It means Number Four is next. It means it’s time to run – again…

The dialogue is stilted and overall the level of the writing (is above average). This book could be compared to some of the better works of Michael Crichton. One could quite become completely lost in the world of the book.

I am number four Pittacus Lore

I am number four Pittacus Lore

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

Absurd Drama Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Fernando Arrabal, Edward Albee, Martin Esslin

When Plays like Ionesco’s Bald Primadonna and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot began to be produced in the early 50’s, critics and audiences were caught with their underthings in knots facing a phenomenon which appeared to flout every accepted standard of drama. Since then the “theater of the absurd’ has become a major dramatic form expressing something of the sense of spiritual desolation which followed the shock of the Second World War shaking religious, spiritual and moral foundations.

In this volume Ionesco’s first full-length play, Amedee and three short plays: Adamov’s Professor Taranee, Arrabal’s The Two executioners and my favorite Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story.

There is an elaborate introduction by Martin Esslin suggesting the antecedents and showing how the development of the plays as poetic images gives them an inner realism and rich theatrical quality.

Absurd Drama Books

Absurd Drama Books

Absurd Drama Books