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review 2020-09-01 12:51
Political relativism on the highest level
Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard - Veronique Pauly (Editor), J. H. Stape (Editor),Joseph Conrad

Why did it take me so long to finish Nostromo? First of all, life. I don’t know about you guys and girls, but my past weeks, even months were busy and crazy af. Secondly, for various reasons, 6 other books squeezed themselves in between since I started Nostromo in April, which – in hindsight – was not helping the reading experience, because this is a very complex novel.
Therefore the already confusing political circumstances became even more confusing for me, because after a long break from Nostromo, during which I might have read two or three different books, I often forgot or confused some of the characters and hence was a bit lost plotwise. But hey, that’s what times filled with revolutions and counter-revolutions are all about – chaos and confusion. So in this regard, I guess I got the full experience.

Nostromo is set in Costaguana, a fictitious republic somewhere in South America. The novel moves quite slowly at the beginning, so initially you have a lot of time to get acquainted with the main characters, the setting and some early events along the storyline. The slow pace is a good thing though, because honestly this novel takes some time to get used to, but the more I progressed, the more it grew on me. With the exception of the last few chapters which are slower again, Conrad really picks up the speed in approximately the last third of his novel – stuff is happening left, right and centre, the perspective is shifting within the chapters, time jumps back and forth and as mentioned before, after taking a long break and reading something else in between, I admit that I struggled quite a bit to pick up where I left, but there is only myself to blame for that.

This is a very political and very complex novel (well, it is written by Conrad after all) about revolutions, counter-revolutions, political scheming, speculation, exploitation, colonization, morals, individual monomaniacal ideas, and everything in between. Even if you read Nostromo without taking crazy long breaks, it is easy to loose focus and I somehow have the feeling that even Conrad himself was on the verge of getting lost in the events of his own novel from time to time.

Somehow Nostromo reminded me a lot of For Whom the Bell Tolls, especially regarding the South American way of revolting and not really caring at the same time. Yet the political relativism expressed by Conrad surpasses Hemingway by miles! Conrad challenges the whole notion of linear historical progress by presenting a cyclical repetition of events that ultimately renders every decision and action basically irrelevant. One of my favourite sentences from the novel’s preface, that sums up this point really well, is: „Nostromo’s narrative structure generates a similar chaos by blurring cause and effect.“ I couldn’t have said it any better.

As I mentioned in one of my first Nostromo posts, the character Nostromo appears very scarcely (similar to Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame), even though there is a sheer mountain of  secondary literature dealing solely with Nostromo, his motives and/or his psychology. Personally, I didn’t much care for him, and neither did Conrad apparently (as expressed in one of his letters): „I don’t defend Nostromo himself. Fact is he does not take my fancy either.“

One more thing editing-wise. The editor added quite a number of notes and annotations to the text, most of which is helpful background info about historical events, literary sources or just a general help for some of the strange sounding expressions for which Conrad used a one-to-one translation of a Gallicism into English. But if I ever meet the editor (which is highly unlikely), I will personally punch her in the face for one of the notes in which she completely spoilers the death of a character without any warning! This particular character just got introduced in the very chapter in which said annotation is placed and it happens to be the one character I immediately fell in love with and really cared about.

But to finally wrap this up: the 3,5 out of 5 stars reflect my personal reading experience (which was a rather rugged one) rather than the actual quality of Nostromo. Because to do such a novel justice, I would have to re-read while being more focused which I will do at some point in the future.

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text 2020-03-24 16:20
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army
Conrad Monk and the Great Heathen Army - Edoardo Albert

by Eduardo Albert


Historical fiction with humour, what's not to love? This drew me in right away with all the tension of a Viking raid on a monastery and a protagonist who never wanted to be a monk. Conrad is funny in his totally mercenary reaction to the situation and consistently along his further adventures. I do love an intelligent character with a good sense of survival.


It's set against a fairly accurate backdrop of history of the Viking invasions of England. Exactly what's based on fact is explained well in a note after the story and holds some real surprises as some details that seemed unlikely turned out to be based on archaeological finds! I may have a couple of locations to visit on my travels.


The story keeps a good pace and despite his perpetual self-interest, Conrad is actually a likeable character. How he came to be a monk gets explained in the curse of the story and it's easy to sympathise with him on that particular downturn of his constantly changing fortunes.


Best of all, the story puts believable faces to groups of people from history. Personalities among the Danes as well as historical figures bring the setting alive and I did laugh out loud at a few all too human foibles along the way.


I highly recommend this story for anyone who likes a Pratchett-like laugh, even if they don't normally read Historical Fiction. My only complaint is the overt way in which the author lets us know there will be a series. I will be interested in the next book despite my usual disinterest series that use this tactic.

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review 2020-02-29 19:13
Reflections on a Surprising Universe
Reflections on a Surprising Universe: Extraordinary Discoveries Through Ordinary Eyes - Richard Conrad Dieter

[I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A good, “popular science” introduction to quite a few concepts, including quantum physics, DNA, string theory and black holes. I’m not rating it higher because, for me, it was definitely just skimming a surface under which I’ve been diving regularly these past few years. That said, I have no doubts that a reader wanting the “beginner’s version” of these scientific ideas, before branching into more in-depth reading about them, will find “Reflections on a Surprising Universe” fairly useful, and easy to approach.

Notwithstanding the limited interest for me (since I already know more than what the book carries), this was still a fascinating read, if only for the author’s obvious (and contagious) passion for the subjects covered here.

It is also a reminder that there is still so much we don’t know, or aren’t sure of—some of our theories can’t be accurately proved yet, after all, and granted, we got lucky with the Higgs, but who knows if all of this won’t be overhauled (again) in 50 years?

Conclusion: Consider this a 4 stars if you want to get into physics/astrophysics but have little or no knowledge about it yet, and could do with a good primer in layperson’s terms.

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review 2020-02-12 10:49
Asterix and the Chieftain's Daughter, Ferri & Conrad
Asterix and the Chieftain's Daughter: Al... Asterix and the Chieftain's Daughter: Album 38 - Jean-Yves Ferri,Didier Conrad,Albert Uderzo,René Goscinny

I was worried about the future of the Village of Indomitable Gauls we know so well, after finding the first Ferri & Conrad outing good but the subsequent two volumes to be following a deteriorating trend. My persistence paid off, however, with this return to form. It's the story most like one Goscinny would have written we have been given since the great writer's death. It focuses on some of the most beloved tropes of the series; bickering amongst the villagers, puns, daft character names, standing up to the Romans, long-suffering legionaries... and we get insight into the teens in the village, too - an amusing innovation. Delightful!

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review 2019-11-26 09:45
TAUGTNIX, der neue Asterix
Die Tochter des Vercingetorix - Didier Conrad,Jean-Yves Ferry

Leider scheitert dieser neue Asterix an meinen persönlichen Erwartungen. Was habe ich mich gefreut, als ich die ersten Gerüchte vernahm, dass bei diesem neuen Band die Tochter des Vercingetorix die Hauptrolle spielen soll. Eine Fusion von Pippi Langstrumpf und Greta Thunberg habe ich in der streitbar gezeichneten jungen Frau Adrenaline mit dem langen roten Zopf vermutet, die die Dorfjugend aufwiegelt, alles auf links dreht, fridays for future-Demonstrationen anzettelt, Nachhaltigkeit und Umweltschutz einfordert, unbeirrt den massiven Wildschweinverzehr anprangert und der Fangemeinde mal verklickert, dass Asterix und Obelix mittlerweile auch zu alten weißen Männern mutiert sind. Das wäre mal eine mutige, wie spannende und auch anarchische Auseinandersetzung mit den Figuren der Reihe gewesen. Doch weit gefehlt!


Was habe ich stattdessen gekriegt: ein recht spießiges Mädchen, das nur ein bisschen herumpubertiert, eigentlich quasi nur ganz wenig herumzickt und in ihren Grundcharakterzügen eher zu einer Enid-Blyton-Geschichte passt. Da haben die Autoren die einmalige Chance vertan, auch mal im Sinne der Jugend subversiv gegen die Dorfgemeinschaft beziehungsweise Asterix und Obelix vorzugehen und sie am Ende eines Besseren zu belehren. Heißt ja nicht, dass die beiden immer Recht haben und nie etwas dazulernen können oder dürfen.


Möglicherweise haben die Macher sich das aber nicht getraut, gerade weil das Zielpublikum der Reihe mittlerweile unter den alten weißen Männern und deren Frauen zu finden ist, die man nicht vergraulen wollte. Auch wenn die Fans mittlerweile in die Jahre gekommen sind, sollten wir alle nicht vergessen, dass die Geschichte von Anfang an im Zeichen der Revolution, Anarchie und der Subversion gestanden ist. Trotzdem wir nun der Reibepunkt dieser Abarbeitung am System sind, müssten wir alte Asterix-Revoluzzer sowas schon aushalten können.


Ewig verschenkt wurde dieses wundervolle Ausgangspotenzial. So kommt der ganze Comic viel zu brav und zahm daher, macht einen Kotau vor dem System der Dorfgemeinschaft, das es doch eigentlich ironisch und augenzwinkernd kritisieren sollte. Da wurde ja bei Asterix und Maestria, als die ersten feministischen Anspielungen in der Reihe vorgenommen wurden, tausendmal mutiger und witziger vorgegangen. Ich glaube, damals gab es deswegen sogar Stunk bei den Fans.


Was bleibt, ist eine nicht witzige, feige, langweilige Geschichte, die in ihren Ansätzen einfach steckengeblieben ist. Symptomatisch dafür ist auch der Umstand, dass die Jugendlichen sofort den Schwanz einziehen, als sie es wagen, auf Seite 33 den Müll im Meer und den exzessiven Wildschweinkonsum zu kritisieren und massiven Gegenwind von einem wütenden Obelix bekommen. Sie werden abgewiegelt, müssen sich dem tobenden rotbezopften fetten alten Mann unterordnen, die Argumente werden unter den Tisch gekehrt und es folgen leider keine weiteren Aktionen, weil sich die Kinder nicht mehr trauen. Ja, so stellen sich manche Betonschädln der alten Generation ein angemessenes Verhalten der Jungen vor. Gottseidank ist die heutige reale Jugend da wesentlich unangepasster und hartnäckiger, um mit dem Finger immer und immer wieder auf die Probleme unseres Planeten zu zeigen, auch wenn wir sie nicht hören wollen. Ich sag’s ja nicht gern, aber Asterix und vor allem Obelix sind bedauerlicherweise zu RÖMERN mutiert, sie sind im Laufe der Jahre zu dem geworden, was sie immer witzig bekämpfen wollten.


Sonst gab es noch ein paar jugendliche Namen wie Selfix, ein Mini-Aufbegehren – fast nur ein Sturm im Wasserglas – bei der Berufswahl der Söhne des Fischhändlers und des Schmiedes und am Ende siegte bei der jungen Frau Adrenaline die Liebe anstatt der wehrhaften Selbstbestimmung, was aber dann auch wieder zur eigentlichen Selbstbestimmung uminterpretiert wurde. Das ist soo patriarchalisch und Rosamunde-Pilcher-Kitsch, dass mir tatsächlich die Spucke wegbleibt. Dabei hätte ich die Autoren gar nicht so spießig traditionell eingeschätzt, denn im Papyrus des Cäsar (Band 36), und bei den Pikten (Band 35) haben sie durchaus bewiesen, dass sie moderne Themen sehr gut und witzig in den Ursprungsplot adaptieren können.


Fazit: Langeweile, zweimal Schmunzeln, kein einziges Lachen und eigentlich sehr viel Ärgerlichkeit in dieser Geschichte. Ich werfe deshalb TAUGTNIX und KANNNIX in die Runde der Fans.

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