Paperbacks: The Several Lives of Joseph Conrad, by John Stape

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How did a Ukrainian-born Pole from a noble family become the most admired and influential of all modern British novelists? Conrad's singular polyglot genius eased his passage. But, as Stape's colourful and compelling biography puts it, in true Conradian style, "such victories are close run, won against appalling odds, and often requiring a stroke of luck".

The sea, and his career on it, gave Josef Konrad Korzeniowski access to a wide world of change and exchange. Few writers, before or since, have ever enjoyed so rich a canvas. But what he did with it, as Stape shows, owed little to anyone except the tortured, lonely captain on the bridge.