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Falk by Joseph Conrad
Old Men Of The Sea
Falk: A Reminiscence
Joseph Conrad's Falk: A Reminiscence is a humorous engaging and sometimes horrifying tale of old salts and their salty ways when it comes to business, gossip, romance and misadventure of the high seas. Like one of my favorite authors of all time, Jack London, Conrad writes with a genuineness that can only come from direct, personal experience and that conveys a sense of reality that transcends mere fiction. That some of these characters in his story were real men and women is irrefutable and, in this particular story, we once again acquainted with that notorious gossip, Schomberg and his long suffering wife. Fans on Joseph Conrad's other works will remember the dastardly Schomberg from Victory, An Island Tale.
Own Falk: A Reminiscence
Are the Classics Being Forgotten?
A curious observation that I have made is that most landlubbers I know, rarely read whilst most people that live on boats read quite a bit. You might think that I simply know many more boat people than I do land livers but that is not the case. As a consequence, when I want to discuss Conrad, Hugo, London or Melville, most dirt dwellers have nothing to say because they haven't read any of their works while most salts have. I wonder if we are starting to forget the classics on their written form and now know them only from movie adaptations?
An Overview of Falk by Joseph Conrad
The story begins in the way that all classic tales of the sea should begin, with a gathering of old salts sitting around a table reminiscing. One recounts a tale of a time long ago when he made a bitter enemy of a certain tugboat captain named Falk.
Our narrator has taken charge of a ship in a far east port that he needs to deliver to another destination but in order to launch the ship safely he needs the assistance of Falk. The taciturn Falk is the only tugboat captain in the port and wields his monopoly ruthlessly. To get on Falk's bad side is to invite disaster because, without his knowledge of the river and the assistance of his tugboat to pull your vessel safely through to open water, you were doomed to run aground.
Our narrator becomes quite friendly with the captain of a neighboring vessel, a German by the name of Captain Hermann, who lives aboard his own vessel, The Diana, with his wife, their children and a niece. Unbeknownst to anyone, the almost silent Falk has fallen deeply in love with the niece and becomes extremely jealous that our narrator has become such good chums with her uncle and protector, Hermann. Incorrectly assuming that our narrator has designs on the young lady, Falk becomes enraged and acts out like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. He refuses to help launch his boat and buys off anyone else to prevent them from helping our narrator too.
In order to deliver his vessel, our young captain must not only find a way to befriend the bitter and sulking Falk, but he must also find a way to help the old sea dog win the hand of Hermann's niece.
Unfortunately, Falk has a dark secret from his own sinister past that he needs to reveal before he can gain the young niece's heart and hand in marriage. A secret so dark that no sailing man ever wants to hear it spoken.
The Return of Schomberg
If you have read another of Joseph Conrad's great sea tales, Victory (also known as Victory: An Island Tale), then you will be familiar with the unscrupulous gossip Mr Schomberg and his apparently dull wife with the one, blue tooth. Well in this tale the lose tongued Alsatian returns and is back to his old tricks, though not portrayed as quite as evil in this particular tale. Obviously this Schomberg character was based closely on someone that the author, Joseph Conrad, knew in his own life and it's fascinating to wonder what the real man was like and how much malicious damage he inflicted on others with his serpent's tongue.
Victory: An Island Tale
Joseph Conrad's Humor
Despite Joseph Conrad's own proclivities towards the darker observations on life and love, this book is quite humorous in many ways, especially in regards to the gossip Schomberg and how his interpretations of certain situations are completely off the mark. It reminds me of the wonderful scene in Boondock Saints where Willem Dafoe's character uses his trained detective's eye to expertly explain precisely what happened in the raging gun battle the police missed. Insightful, intelligent and, unfortunately, completely wrong. These misguided beliefs also take me back to Victor Hugo's Toilers of the Sea. In this book, Hugo makes many amusing observations about the locals and their thought processes.
My favorite part of the book was how Falk explained that he still woke up nights having dreamed that he could still hear the banging of the desolate ship's rudder against the hull. What a powerful image that conjures.
Falk's Dark Secret
Falk's sinister secret is that he had once resorted to cannibalism when the ship that he was on suffered some mishaps at sea and the crew all turned on each other, resorting to murder and other hideous acts of violence. Falk alone was the only survivor.
Does Falk finally win the hand of the lady he loves? Does our narrator get his ship launched and delivered to it's destination port? The only way to know is to read the book, I won't spoil the fun for you.