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The Lower River Hardcover – May 22, 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 187 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Theroux’s practiced hand in the matter of dialogue and scene-making is strongly in evidence....It’s a particular kind of frightening fun to watch evil flexing and spreading its leathery wings, and really feel it. The Lower River gives the reader just that." -- The New York Review of Books "The Lower River is riveting in its storytelling and provocative in its depiction of this African backwater, infusing both with undertones of slavery and cannibalism, savagery and disease. Theroux exposes paternalism in Hock’s Peace Corps nostalgia, his ‘sense of responsibility, almost a conceit of ownership.’ That sense of responsibility, and Hock’s modest contribution to the welfare of a people he was once genuinely fond of, has been replaced by a harsher mode of operation, run by coldhearted contractors living apart in impregnable compounds. ‘I have to leave,’ Hock pleads. ‘I’m going home.’ To which the village headman replies, with chilling menace, ‘This is your home, father.’ " -- New York Times Book Review

“Theroux’s bravely unsentimental novel about a region where he began his own grand career should become part of anybody’s education in the continent.”—Washington Post

"In this hypnotically compelling fiction, [Theroux] wrestles with questions of good intentions and harsh reality...A gripping and vital novel that reads like Conrad or Greene—in short, a classic." -- Booklist, starred
"Theroux successfully grafts keen observations about the efficacy of international aid and the nature of nostalgia to a swift-moving narrative through a beautifully described landscape." -- PW, starred
"Extraordinary...The suspense is enriched by Theroux’s loving attention to local customs and his subversive insights...Theroux has recaptured the sweep and density of his 1981 masterpiece The Mosquito Coast. That’s some achievement." -- Kirkus, starred
"Theroux's latest can be read as straight-up suspense, but those unafraid of following him into the heart of darkness will be rewarded with much to discuss in this angry, ironic depiction of misguided philanthropy in a country dense with natural resources yet unable to feed its people." -- Library Journal

Book Description

HMH hardcover, 2012
Previous ISBN: 978-0-547-74650-0
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (May 22, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547746504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547746500
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #445,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Feldman VINE VOICE on March 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a young man in the 1960's, the writer Paul Theroux joined the Peace Corps and taught school in a village in Malawi, then a British colony. Decades later, as part of the north-south journey through Africa chronicled in his "Dark Star Safari," he returns to this village, only to find the school he built fallen into disrepair and the villagers dependent on aid from western charities.

This bit of biography is the basis of the story of "The Lower River," a novel that is a riveting adventure story, a meditation on what constitutes happiness, and a satirical skewering of the culture of dependency fostered by well-meant philanthropy. It is the tale of Ellis Hock, a man in his sixties who, unhappy in his own life, decides to return to the village in Malawi where he had been happy once, long ago. Like many of Theroux's characters, Hock has a bit of Theroux's own life attached to him; he owns a store in Medford, Massachusetts, where Theroux grew up, and inhabits, post-divorce, a condo in a building that once served as Medford High School.

Ellis Hock may resemble Paul Theroux in some of the details, but he is decidedly not the acerbic writer himself. Hock is touching and vulnerable in his sadness and in his optimism that happiness can be found in a place. In his return to Malabo, the village where he had been a teacher, he equips himself with everything he will need: clothes, a sturdy bag, plenty of money, a few essential contacts, and photocopies of his passport. He reaches the remote village intent on doing good. Instead, he finds himself at the center of a set of circumstances that reads like a thriller, complete with complex plots and near-escapes.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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 encounters...or himself. In many of his past novels, his characters are transplanted into a new culture and struggle to survive against environmental, cultural and psychological pressures.

For 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 age.(Theroux was actually dismissed from the Peace Corps for becoming involved in Malawi's politics).

Now, 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.
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Paul Theroux the author can be as controversial as Paul Theroux the person. He is an accomplished writer and outspoken critic of misguided philanthropic overtures from the likes of Bono, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, whom he labels as "mythomaniacs" content on promoting their largess as a way of convincing the world of their worth. In a "New York Times" (2005) opinion piece, Theroux laments being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star In a cowboy hat (aka Bono); a figure who earns a place as a contemptuous look-a-like in Theroux's novel. He also exploits the detachment of the likes of billionaire Bill Gates (Bono being one of his trusted advisers) for his unproductive and insane idea to send computers to Africa when they need "pencils, paper, mops and brooms".

Theroux's novel "The Lower River" chronicles in the abstract some of Theroux's experiences teaching in Africa. He does this through the exploits of the main character Ellis Hock who had taken a similar trek in life as part of the Peace Corps. Through Ellis Hock, Theroux visualizes "the school[s] where we taught 40 years ago are now in ruins - covered with graffiti, with broken windows, standing in tall grass. Money will not fix this." - For "[T]hey will eat your money and then they will eat you." And it is through this disillusionment that Ellis Hock will become captive to his past, figuratively and literally. Theroux's novel is fundamentally structured in two parts; the one being the story itself the other being Theroux's passion about the underlying destructiveness of misguided largess that reduced a people to be "changed, disillusioned, shabby, lazy, dependent, blaming, [and] selfish" a theme not lost in its similarities to current events in European countries like Spain, France and Greece today.
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