Perched high up above the Thames in downtown London
every month this past year a different writer has spent four days living in a replica of the Roi des Belges, the boat Marlow travels up the Congo in Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness
. Each author would write a short text during their stay "which explores London, rivers, the work of Joseph Conrad, or even all three." They would be visited on the last day by a journalist from The Guardian who recorded them reading their essay, poem or short story. Among the poets, historians and novelists were Adonis, Jeanette Winterson, Teju Cole, Michael Ondaatje and Kamila Shamsie. These recordings, each prefaced by a short interview, are all available on the Guardian website, to stream or download. Below the cut there is a link to each recording, with a short description.
January: Juan Gabriel Vásquez
, Colombian novelist, delivers an essay about his relationship with Joseph Conrad's fiction and the man himself, but both have inspired his own writing.
February: Jeanette Winterson
, who writes fiction and memoir, recounts her experience of watching the city and the river below her.
March: Sven Lindqvist
, Swedish historian and reporter, writes about how he learned at a young age through books of the people on the wrong end of economic exploitation and genocide.
April: Caryl Phillips
, novelist and screenwriter, describes the attraction of London to West Indian immigrants and their integration into English society.
May: Maya Jasanoff
, American historian and Harvard professor, writes about rivers from a personal and historical perspective, and Conrad's personal and authorial journey up the Congo.
June: Michael Ondaatje
, Sri Lankan born Canadian novelist and poet, recounts his own journey to London from Sri Lanka and explores the role of seafaring and river journeys in history and literature.
July: Alain Mabanckou
, Congolese novelist, recites his essay about Conrad and the history of the Congo river.
August: Teju Cole
, Nigerian-American novelist and essayist, relates the story of meeting V. S. Naipaul and writes about how Africans have been described by outsiders in writing.
September: Ahdaf Soueif
, Egyptian novelist and political activist, writes about the history of resistance by oppressed populations.
October: Kamila Shamsie
, Pakistani novelist, writes about female travelers and their invisibility in history.
, Syrian poet, recites a poem, translated into English by Khaled Mattawa, about the war that has enveloped his home country.
December: Colm Tóibín
, Irish novelist, reads a short story inspired by the character of Marlow.
The short little descriptions reflect the content of the various texts poorly, as they are generally wide-ranging and mix contemplation with personal history. Listening to all twelve in order also gives a portrait of London changing through the seasons in a year that included both the Olympics and the Jubilee.