Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Lower River by Paul Theroux

The Lower River by Paul Theroux is a story of longing and a desire to recapture the past. Forty years ago, Ellis Hock spent four years in the African country of Malawi with the Peace Corps. They were the happiest years of his life. He was called back to the United States when his father died, and he took over the successful family business selling menswear.

When his wife discovers his online flirtations with some of his female customers, she leaves him, and he finds himself thinking more and more about Africa. He feels he has just been marking time since he left Malawi. Hock was known as the Snake Man in his village in Malawi. An acquaintance has a friend with a python. The acquaintance calls Ellis for advice on the snake.

“She wants to know why the snake is acting weird. It still isn’t eating. It lies beside her, flattening itself.”

“Did you say flattening itself?” Hock said. “Listen, get her on the phone. Tell her to put the snake in a cage immediately.”

“Why are you shouting?”

Only then had Hock realized that his voice had risen almost to a scream. In this same shrill pitch he said, “The snake is measuring her. It’s getting ready to eat her!”

As his memories of Africa resurface, Hock decides to return to Malawi and the Lower River. But many things have changed in 40 years, and his trip takes a dangerous turn.

It is obvious the author knows his subject well. Theroux was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi many years ago and has since returned. The descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of Africa are authentic. The characters seem like real people, and the dialog rings true.

This is a grim and fascinating book with true moments of terror. If you are interested in well written fiction, Africa, and traveling vicariously, I recommend The Lower River.

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