The Lower River

The Lower River

Book - 2012
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Ellis Hock never believed that he would return to Africa. He runs an old-fashioned menswear store in a small town in Massachusetts but still dreams of his Eden, the four years he spent in Malawi with the Peace Corps, cut short when he had to return to take over the family business. When his wife leaves him, and he is on his own, he realizes that there is one place for him to go: back to his village in Malawi, on the remote Lower River, where he can be happy again.

Arriving at the dusty village, he finds it transformed: the school he built is a ruin, the church and clinic are gone, and poverty and apathy have set in among the people. They remember him--the White Man with no fear of snakes--and welcome him. But is his new life, his journey back, an escape or a trap?

Interweaving memory and desire, hope and despair, salvation and damnation, this is a hypnotic, compelling, and brilliant return to a terrain about which no one has ever written better than Theroux.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
ISBN: 9780547746500
0547746504
Characteristics: 323 p. ; 24 cm

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FVReader
Feb 14, 2016

This is my first, but not my last, book by Paul Theroux. He could be a modern Hardy: the story is well told and bleak, bleak, bleak. Throughout there's a theme of entrapment; everyone is trapped in this story. Ellis Hock is trapped in a lifetime of duties, his only free & happy time being the 4 years he spent in the village of Malago in Malawi during his early 20s. At 62, he decides to go back to relive these happy years.
In the 40 years since his last visit, the country has gone from hopeful to despair, AIDS is taking its toll on the people, there's destitution everywhere. The people are trapped.
Ellis' experiences in the village of Malago are as trapped and destitute as his life and the life of the people of Malawi.
There are many themes throughout this book, all wonderfully interwoven. It's difficult to mention them all: fear, superstition, hate, Foreign Aid, mistrust, lies, destitution, arrogance, etc.
The people of Malawi are not deeply portrayed or explored. The story is told from the point of view of Ellis, so this could be explained by Ellis' ignorance of the people.
A well-told story.

l
LaRoyal
Nov 01, 2012

I was disappointed, as I loved the premise. The main character does not grow, in spite of repeating his own failings endlessly (could have done with lots of editing!). The happy ending is undeserved.

u
Urbano
Sep 02, 2012

This gripping novel explores our nostalgia for the unlived parts of our lives and the narcissistic Western tenancy to project our own fantasies onto other cultures, with devastating effect for all.

Ellis Hock is a bored and passive 60 year old, disconnected from his family and disappointed by life. After his wife leaves him and his business fails, he decides to reinvent himself by returning to the last place he remembers being happy: the isolated Malawian village he lived in as a Peace Corp volunteer.

His vision of the Edenic life he'll lead there begins to crumble before he even reaches the village, yet he clings to his fantasies. Arriving in the village, he finds not the noble, happy people he remembered (or imagined?) but people struggling to survive hunger, poverty, AIDS, drought and the corrosive effects of Western development programs. Everywhere he turns he encounters manipulation, indifference, fear and despair. And then he finds that he, like the villagers, has no way out.

Ellis is quite a loathsome character: he is passive and content to sit back, bark orders and let others care for him & exploit him. He lusts after the 16 year old granddaughter of the villager he wanted to marry in his youth, having her dance naked for him to alleviate his boredom and despair. He seems to feel no compassion for the villagers' pain and hopelessness, spending all of his time in wallowing in narcissism, thinking about how all these terrible conditions affect him. Despite my dislike for him, I couldn't put the book down.

This would have been a 5 star read except for the abrupt and rather ridiculous ending.”

c
Carlitos
Jul 03, 2012

Ellis Hock, retired and estranged from his family, longs to revisit a remote village in Malawi where he had been happy 40 years before as a Peace Corps Volunteer. With the best intentions he returns, only to find that things have changed. Part adventure story and character study, this absorbing novel also provokes questions about the relationship between the developed and developing worlds, between givers and takers. Highly recommended!

s
shanauer
Jun 27, 2012

Theroux's writing style is not for me. I thought the premise of the book sounded fascinating, but just couldn't get past his stilted (to me) writing. A ho-hum.

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PimaLib_WilliamB May 06, 2015

Ellis wants to revisit the little village in Africa where he volunteered as a youth in the Peace Corps. The problem is, the place has completely changed, and he is being held practically prisoner there, with no way to leave, and nobody who knows he is there.

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