REVIEW The Lower River 107


REVIEW The Lower River 107 õ ❴Download❵ ➻ The Lower River Author Paul Theroux – 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 th Ellis Hock never believed that he would 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 no one has ever written better about than Thero. A white man out of his element and trying to get back to the world he knows is a theme running through Paul Theroux's stunning novel THE LOWER RIVER I loved the characters locales and sheer desperation as the book wore on Reminiscent of Graham Joyce's SMOKING POPPY I found this story extraordinary

Paul Theroux Á 7 REVIEW

S him taking the family home he realizes that there is one place for him to go back to 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. Anyone who has read Paul Theroux knows one of his key themes is the American innocent abroad refusing to acknowledge the dark side of the people he encountersor himself In many of his past novels his characters are transplanted into a new culture and struggle to survive against environmental cultural and psychological pressuresFor those who enjoy Theroux his latest novel does not disappoint In fact it soars Once again we are treated to an anti hero who is forced to meet his overblown expectations head on And once again there are tendrils of Theroux’s own life Ellis Hock like Theroux himself hails from Medford Massachusetts and spent time in the backwaters of Malawi as a teacher during a tender ageTheroux was actually dismissed from the Peace Corps for becoming involved in Malawi’s politicsNow forty years later Hock’s business and marriage have failed his daughter has revealed her avarice and he decides to return to The Lower River – the poorest part of a poor country and home of the superstitious Sena people The ensuing tale – a tale of salvation and damnation evocative of Heart of Darkness or Lord of the Flies – is downright hypnotic Hock is known as the man who handles snakes in a village that fears them; this tale too grips around the reader holding tight not letting go Hock “did not want to think that Africa was hopeless” But in reality “the school would remain a roofless shell a nest of snake the office a hideout for the orphan boys the clinic a ruin”The plot twists are so intriguing that I don’t even want to allude to them; suffice to say that Theroux delves deeply into whether a healthy interest in a different culture can coincide with the arrogance and egotism that we bring to that culture “What do you want I’m from America I can get food I can find money for you” Hock says when placed in a potentially dangerous situation Yet as he later discovers “You come with money to the poor and they are so frenzied by hunger that all they see is the money They never see your face and so when the money is gone you are revealed as mere flesh a surprise They don’t know you”The most riveting parts of the story are the power plays between Hock and Manyenga the cynical and sniveling village chief who oppresses him with meaningless gestures of honor baring to the core what he believes the mzungo “divinity” – the white man – is all about There is much to mull over “This looks such a simple place But no everyone lies so you can’t know it allIf you’re hungry you will do everything you will agree to anything you will say anything” Once Theroux has masterfully displayed a clash of the cultures and their false expectations

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The Lower RiverEllis Hock never believed that he would return to Africa He runs an old fashioned The Lower eBook #231 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 leave. Just like them he was a wisp of diminishing humanity with nothing in his pockets hardly had pockets and he felt a lightness because of it With no money he was insubstantial and beneath notice As soon as everyone knew he had nothing they would stop asking him for money would stop talking to him altogether probably Yet tugging at this lightness was another sensation of weight his poverty like an anchor He couldn't move or go anywhere; he had no bargaining power He was anchored by an absence of money not just immovable but sitting and slipping lower Paul TherouxI have met Paul Theroux several times but the most memorable was in Seattle I was in town selling remainder books to the local bookstores and one of my stops was the University Bookstore I noticed that Theroux was booked to be there that night for a reading At each bookstore stop I had that day I looked for a copy of one of his books that I didn't already own so I could have something for him to sign I found a copy of The Kingdom by the Sea I was early for the event Paul was late He arrived 40 minutes late and informed us that he had been enjoying his meal and had lingered over his aperitif I had heard stories of his arrogance before so I didn't bother to be offended Besides I had a book to read He launched into this diatribe about cigarette smoking and how no one who didn't smoke couldn't possible understand just how wonderful the activity of smoking was I don't remember what book he was touring for but it was one of his novels His handler tried to bring him back to the purpose of the tour a couple of times but Paul was locked in on his subject I can only assume he was not allowed to smoke with his meal and that may have triggered this lecture I don't mean to make him sound like an ogre He was charming and brimming with intelligence appearing truly academic in his green tweed with leather arm patches and his glasses slightly askew on his faceTheroux is best known for his train based travel books I can still remember when I read The Great Railway Bazaar I had never read anything like it before His prose sparks with acerbic asides balanced by witty lines He is not politically correct He is opinionated and even at times the reader can tell his thoughts of a region are colored by one bad interaction with a native as he stepped off the train He gets mad and can make an ass of himself He shows his thorns and his spontaneous acts of kindness The reader alternates between wanting to smack him in the head and shake his hand AND yet I couldn't wait for his latest released travel book His fiction is a bit uneven He has total misses and then he releases The Mosuito Coast arguable his best book and certainly his best known book When I finally approached Theroux with my proffered offering I launched into a impromptu speech about how much I loved his travel books It miffed him I had read somewhere that he was sensitive about his fiction He saw himself as a novelist He shoved my book back at me and dismissed me with a look at the next person in line behind me I should have known better I laughed all the way down the hallway and all the way out to my rental car in the parking lot He was exactly who I expected him to be Ellis Hock spent four years in the Peace Corps in the African country of Malawi He would have stayed longer but two things happened simultaneously The woman he was half in love with could not have sex with him because she was betrothed to another and his father dies He moves back to Massachusetts and takes over the family business While in Africa he had developed a hobby of catching dangerous snakes and letting them curl around his arm The Malawians are deathly afraid of snakes and looked on his relationship with snakes as mystical Back in Boston he has a friend that knows a woman having issues with her python The smell of the snake the feel of the snake sent his senses reeling back to his time in Africa The clothing business he inherited from his father was being decimated by imports and cheap competition His wife had divorced him taking his family home in the process His daughter is only interested in her inheritance; assuming that despite the fact that she treats him with nothing short of disdain that he would still be willing to give her anything He is 62 years old and he dreams of his time in AfricaHock chucks it all not a difficult decision given his circumstances and heads to Africa back to the village of his greatest triumph Malabo The village is located along the lower river and is still lagging far behind the rest of the country He returns to find the school he had built decimated The people are barely at subsistence living He is famous though most of the people he had known before are dead Stories of his snake handling and his teaching have been passed down to the next generation The head man assigns him a girl to help him to wait on him hand and foot and also provide him with any other assistance he desires He first really becomes aware of Zizi when he comes upon her wading in a pool The whole luminous process of the girl slowly lifting her chitenje wrap as she waded deeper into the still pool was one of the most teasing heart stirring visions he'd ever had Yet she wasn't a tease The cloth inched up with the rising water and when it exposed the small honey colored globes of her buttocks and she half turned to steady herself the surface of the green pool brimmed against the patch of darkness at the narrowness of her body a glint of gold the skirt cloth twisted just above it Hock felt a hunger he had not known for forty years He stared at the spangled sunlight in the gap between her legsAs it becomes apparent that Hock is being held captive by the village He fights his desires along with the old memories of his triumphs in this very place The head man slowly bleeds him dry of money As his circumstances become and dire with desperation he attempts to escape He is recaptured Hock looked around wishing for a snake a fat one a viper that he can seize and shake at them like a thunderbolt African Black MambaHock puts Zizi in grave danger in a last ditch effort to escape his captivity He is tired and sick with malaria and beyond mere desperation What we will give up to survive sometimes is very startling He has become a ghost of the man he once was As a woman of the village sums up Your food has been eaten Your money has been eaten Your hope too all gone We have eaten youTheroux does not shy away from the AIDS epidemic that has devastated the populations of Africa There is a village of kids throw aways that have been orphaned by AIDS The book has tones of Greene and Conrad If you are fans of those writers you will not be disappointed with this book Okay Paul maybe you are than just a great travel writer Maybe you are also a very capable novelist