I have imagined your surprise when you received this package and saw the name Jack Malone and my Dutch East Indies return address. Finding the manuscript inside must have made you wonder why you had been sent it, so I want to tell you straightaway that I am not asking you to vet it as you have done for so many writers over the years. It is yours to do with as you wish. I should add that it concerns Conrad -- his life and work -- as I have seen them through the lens of our friendship that lasted more than a quarter of a century and persists in memory to this day. To avoid any confusion at the outset, I think it best for me to begin with a brief explanation of how I came to write these pages and my reason for sending them to you.
Six years ago, in the fall of 1924, I boarded a freighter in London bound for Java. Still grieving for Conrad, who had died only a month earlier, I had become quite aware even then that my only chance to understand what had happened between us would be to put the story down on paper, the whole thing, from beginning to end. If I had had a reasonable grasp of what I wanted to say, the solitude and endless vistas of a long sea voyage would have been an ideal occasion to begin the enterprise, but at that point the story was a great jumble of people and places and objects. As I stood at the aft rail watching the dock recede, the well-wishers who had come to say good-bye growing smaller, the city flattening out, I saw in the spreading V of the freighter's wake shimmering images of Conrad emerging from the fog at Tilbury Dock, a sign over the door of an old bookshop, the tormented eyes of a captain in the Royal Navy, a German U-boat's conning tower decorated with kill signs. By the time I reached Batavia, Indonesia, several weeks later, those and other images, along with their attendant emotions, had overrun my mind, leaving me in a state of exhausted frustration.
Five years were to pass before I finally sat down to see what I could do in the way of memoir writing. After three false starts I was close to giving up. I remember crushing what I thought might well be the last page of my efforts and rolling it across the table, where the bloodless thing disappeared over the edge. And then, half an hour later, you appeared, Ford, descending like a ministering angel from the silky blackness of an Indonesian night to show me the way.
I had abandoned the table in the living room of my bungalow and was standing on the veranda, looking down at the Old Port of Batavia, whose bay was dotted with lanterns hanging from the prows of invisible fishing boats. Farther off lay a net of lights, the sparkling city, lovely and seductive. I was listening to the incessant nightly hum, a medley of human and inhuman sounds, hisses and groans and bangings, cars' motors, the clip-clop of bullocks' hooves, the creaking wheels of old carts, faint voices of people out for a stroll or coming home late from work.
Suddenly, I recalled an afternoon y
Sailors on the Inward Sea
Sailors on the Inward Sea recounts the desperate time when the stately British minesweeper Brigadier, blinded by thick fog in the North Sea, crashes into a German submarine in a horrifying accident. When an altercation between the enemies ensues and the Brigadier's prodigy, a talented young ensign, is fatally shot, the captain, Fox-Bourne, orders a retreat, deliberately leaving dozens of German sailors to die in the frigid waters.
Although Captain Fox-Bourne's murderous judgment is called into question in a military court, when he is found innocent, a passionate witness to the incident decides to take matters into his own hands. This witness -- none other than the great novelist Joseph Conrad, a former sailor himself and a guest-observer on the Brigadier -- writes an account of the conflict in order to give the captain a chance to confess, redeem himself, and purge his conscience. But Conrad has other, secret motivations, as his trusted confidant, Captain Jack Malone, knows only too well.
And it is ultimately Malone, our sage but enigmatic narrator, whose journey we follow as he confronts the timeless challenges of being a friend, confidant, lover, sailor, and muse. As he sweeps across the oceans from England to Africa and finally to the sensuous world of Indonesia, Malone seeks to uncover the true boundaries between friendship and betrayal, loyalty and love, legacy and life.
Malone, Conrad, and Thornton form a brilliant trinity of wisdom, imagination, and adventure. Together they carry a torch that threatens to singe, just as it promises to reveal, the path to which the inward sea ultimately leads.