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5 Books like Heart of Darkness: Exploring the Sinister

Kedar Prasana itcherThere are books that grab your attention and then, there are books that haunt you for life. Books like ‘Heart of Darkness’ are certainly counted in this second category. If you enjoyed experiencing the sinister depths of an ordinary human mind, you are sure going to want to take a look at these selections: ‘A Handful of Dust’, ‘A Bend in the River’, ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘The Famished Road’, and ‘Disgrace’. ~ Kedar Prasana

The Horror, The Horror, The Horror!

The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness…

Some authors have a magical magnetic pull that just keeps drawing you into reading their works again and again. Joseph Conrad, insofar as my literary understanding can tell, is definitely one of them.

‘Heart of Darkness’ is a book of horror. Despite that, if you read it once, you will read it again. The usual enchanting prose that Conrad was gifted with makes sure that you read through these horrors of ‘Kurtz’, a British official lost in African jungles for the world, and ‘Marlow’, the man in charge of locating Kurtz, without ever feeling subdued.

For those of you who haven’t already watched it, ‘Apocalypse Now’ is a timeless cinematic rendition of this book, adapted to the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

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Books Similar to ‘Heart of Darkness’…

‘A Handful of Dust’ (Evelyn Waugh, 1934)

Tony went about, in his delirious Gothic mind, on and on, until he was consumed to the last bit – there wasn’t a shred left to give…

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Evelyn Waugh, once a flag-bearer of Modernist English literature, had to spend the twilight of his life in poverty, almost exactly like the protagonist of this masterpiece, Tony Last.

Waugh was a widely travelled writer. His forays into the African and Latin American rainforests are well documented. He used these experiences to create a stunning and mind-numbing crescendo to the tranquil first half of ‘A Handful of Dust’.

A man leaving it all to the wind, to get lost in the wilderness is the central theme that makes this a book like ‘Heart of Darkness’.

Similarity Match: 95%
Waugh and Conrad couldn’t have had a more different background. However, their approach to life certainly seems quite similar. ‘Kurtz’ and ‘Tony Last’ are, in essence, two fine examples of good English men made, in a twisted sense of the word, better by the jungles.

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‘A Bend in the River’ (V.S. Naipaul, 1979)

The World is what it is…

Image Source: middlemiss

‘A Bend in the River’ narrates the story of how a military coup in a generic African country affects the lives of those trying to eke out a living.

Salim, the narrator of the story, runs a small shop in this country and observes the happenings around him in a strangely affectionate manner. Naipaul and Conrad are both among the finest prose writer English literature has ever seen, and as it was for me, it will be a sheer treat for you to read them in succession. 

Similarity Match: 90%
Both of these authors were from non-English backgrounds. Settings didn’t matter to them much, because neither of them thought it important to name the country they are talking about in these books. However, Naipaul relies on a cast of characters, while Conrad can easily make do with two of them.

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‘Things Fall Apart’ (Chinua Achebe, 1958)

If I hold her hand she says, ‘Don’t touch!’
If I hold her foot she says, ‘Don’t touch!’
But when I hold her waist-beads she pretends not to know…

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Chinua Achebe was among the first African authors to make an indelible mark on the global English literature scene. His breakthrough work, ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a smack-in-the-face story of two warring African tribes further devastated by English Imperialism.

There’s a certain sense of harbingering throughout this story, a sense of impending doom that you cannot help but give in to. This is precisely why I think ‘Things Fall Apart’ is a book like ‘Heart of Darkness’.

It should be worth mentioning here, however, that Achebe had extremely different views about ‘Heart of Darkness’, and he didn’t shy away from making them known.

Similarity Match: 85%
Both of these books try to overview and loathe the impact of Imperialism on the ‘New World’, one through an English eye while the other through African.

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If You Like ‘Heart of Darkness’, You Will Like…

Getting lost in the jungles with Marlow and Kurtz is a surreally frightening experience that will certainly make you question your own sanity.

To go with the theme, here are two more books like ‘Heart of Darkness’ that are more ‘modern’ in style. 

‘The Famished Road’ (Ben Okri, 1991)

This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down…

Image Source: africanwriterstrust

‘The Famished Road’ is a story of a ‘spirit child’, a kind heightened by customs but trodden by people, and his life experiences in a poorer-than-a-pauper African settlement.

Taking a cue from magical realists like Rushdie and Garcia Marquez, Ben Okri weaves a dream-like narrative that evokes the feel of foggy ruins over that bloody African river in ‘Heart of Darkness’.

Unlike Conrad, Okri’s prose isn’t something you would get attracted to. But it’s the bluntness of his thoughts that makes this a read worth the while.

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‘Disgrace’ (J.M. Coetzee, 1999)

Was it serious? I don’t know. It certainly had serious consequences…

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J.M. Coetzee, a stalwart of South African literature, confirmed his authority with ‘Disgrace’.

Much like ‘Heart of Darkness’, ‘Disgrace’ is about the protagonist – a middle aged professor of English – who finds himself deluded by the world around him and goes to unspeakable lengths to make sense of the chaos.

Kurtz and Marlow were in a world that’s buried into history books. ‘Disgrace’, on the other hand, is very much relatable in the 21st century.

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Want More, More, More?

Books like ‘Heart of Darkness’ listed above will definitely reward you with a better perspective and outlook of the world. If and when you are done with these, you can take on some other similarly amazing titles: ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’, ‘Nostromo’ and ‘Joseph Anton’.

All of your comments, remarks and further suggestions are eagerly awaited.

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