Posted by: Lisa Hill | April 25, 2011

Almayer’s Folly (1892), by Joseph Conrad

Almayer's Folly: a story of an Eastern riverAlmayer’s Folly: a story of an Eastern river by Joseph Conrad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prepare yourself for some purple patches towards the end, but this is a great story about the lust for money and power in the Dutch East Indies. Kaspar Almayer marries a Malay girl who’s been ‘rescued’ from a life of ‘piracy’ because the rescuer feels guilty about having made her an orphan. Almayer doesn’t want to marry the girl, but he agrees because she comes with an attractive dowry: all of Linghard’s wealth, and the promise of more if Almayer manages the trading station on the island of Simber while Lingard goes upriver to find the fabled gold and diamonds of the interior.

So, making vague plans to get rid of his bride, Almayer sets off but it all comes to nothing. Rival traders – Lakamba, a local Rajah, and Abdalla, an Arab – outsmart Almayer at every turn, and Lingard’s expeditions soon drain the business of funds. He (never to be seen again) goes off to Java to raise more capital, taking Nina, Almayer’s only child with him, so that she can be educated at Mrs Vincz’s. That doesn’t work out for very long because Nina (being mixed race, and therefore considered fair game by the local lads) attracts unwanted attention which detracts from the marital prospects of Mrs V’s daughters.

Meanwhile the trade in smuggled gunpowder is livening up. The Dutch were never very good colonists, and they never really controlled the interior. There were significant rebellions from time to time, especially in Aceh and Bali. Dain, son of a Balinese Rajah turns up to acquire some gunpowder, and falls for Nina who is moping around back at home. The feeling’s mutual, which causes jealousy from a rival. Abdalla and Lakamba have their own agenda, the Dutch think that (hopelessly incompetent) Almayer is running the trade, and all this frustrates Almayer’s plans to take up making money where Lingard left off.

It really is a very good story, a bit complicated here and there but so intriguing it’s hard to put down. Conrad has a light touch in exposing the casual racism of his characters, but there’s no doubt that Nina speaks for him when she reflects that all the people in her life are all the same: greedy, foolish and weak.

I really liked it, as I’ve liked all of Conrad’s books that I’ve read so far.

PS This is an experiment.  I don’t blog all my reading here, and this is a book that I reviewed on my GoodReads page.  I thought I’d try out their ‘copy your review to your blog’ function.  It’s quite good because it even imports the bookcover.

Availability: I downloaded my copy from Project Gutenberg onto my Kindle.


  1. I rather enjoy Conrad – but not all he wrote. My favourite is the Secret Agent which is both funny and topical (terrorism etc). Its wonderful that its so easy to obtain obscure books like this one for no money – in the old days you would have bought it and it would have sat on your shelves for years and years.


    • The Secret Agent? Thanks, Tom, That sounds good too!


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