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The Lower River

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  2,414 ratings  ·  428 reviews
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, taking the family home, he realizes that there is one place for hi ...more
Kindle Edition, 336 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2012)
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3.58  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,414 ratings  ·  428 reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
The book captivated me; it pulled me in; I did not want to put it down. Yeah, I liked it a lot, but if you were to ask me if it is as good as the author’s non-fiction, I would definitely say no. It’s like comparing “apples and oranges”!

The Lower River is an exciting book, but realistic. It is well written, meaning it has lines that are tantalizingly beautiful. Other lines are frightening and scary. It conveys a noteworthy message, a word of warning about aid to underdeveloped, poor countries whe
switterbug (Betsey)
Apr 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A pilgrimage usually brings to mind young college grads or drop-outs backpacking and seeking to find “who I really am,” or the forty-something just-divorced and tired-of-the-rat-race individual plagued with ennui or provoked by accumulated reproaches. Or is it the pilgrimage to Mecca or Delphi? It does suggest a spiritual journey-- a life-defining, soul-searching odyssey.

In Theroux’s latest novel, sixty-two year old businessman, Ellis Hock, embarks on a pilgrimage. Scorned by his wife and spurne
Mar 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bill Womack
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
I came to The Lower River with high expectations, mostly founded on Paul Theroux's wonderful travel writing. What I loved about books like Riding the Iron Rooster is true for this one as well; nobody describes unusual or exotic locales quite like him. Sadly, that's where the wonder stopped this time.

Ellis Hock was a compelling enough character in the beginning. Characters approaching old age seem to seldom get the starring role in contemporary novels, so I though it refreshing that we'd get to s
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 hopefu
J.K. Grice
Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Friederike Knabe
Jun 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, us-lit
Paul Theroux's recent novel, THE LOWER RIVER, follows sixty-something year old Ellis Hock back to Africa to connect with a time forty years ago, "the happiest years of his life", when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer and teacher in a remote village in Malawi. On and off he has been dreaming about that time and place, returning to it in his mind when wandering through his hometown zoo; his memories flooding back with a strong sense of nostalgic longing. Now that his marriage has fallen apart, his b ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
I like to think of myself as a glass half-full person but when it comes to my literature I like a half-empty writer. This explains my love for Thomas Hardy--no one can make a character's life more bleak and miserable than Hardy (see The Mayor of Casterbridge). I like to think of Paul Theroux as the modern equivalent. I don't know why but I do love to read a tragedy or about a fall from grace. Maybe it is just a reminder of how good my own life is or a my own ward against tragedy.

I was at my book
Kasa Cotugno
Paul Theroux is blessed with a consummate talent for writing and a restless nature for travel. Taken together, we readers are blessed that he combines these qualities and shares them with us. Like Jonathan Rabin (a friend of Theroux with whom, they both have informed, he swaps book galleys prepublication), Theroux is equally adept at fiction and non-, but Theroux spent some time as a young man working for the Peace Corps, in the landscape he describes as did Elias Hock, central character in this ...more
Aug 03, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
Ok this was somewhat of a disappointment. I really love Theroux's travel writing and some of his other novels but this one just didn't live up to my expectations. Too bad.
Jan 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
I wanted to like this book. I had just finished reading my first Theroux book -- Last Train to Zona Verde -- and, having enjoyed it, I decided to venture into his fiction. I only got about a hundred pages in before I had to stop: not because it was boring, or poorly written, but because it seemed extremely ethnocentric and chauvinistic.

The gist of it is that a 60-something year old man named Hock decides to go back to Malawi, where he worked for four years as a Peace Corps volunteer over forty
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I rate this book highly although it is incredibly grim and depressing and has a couple of big flaws like repetiveness and occasionally implausible plot turns.

This is a story of lost youth and the impossibility of reconnecting with the dreams of those times. Ellis Hock is a 60-ish haberdasher who finds himself suddenly alone. His wife divorces him after finding incriminatingly intimate emails on his iPhone; his daughter is an estranged brat, and his multi-generational downtown store falls victim
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul Theroux is my personal hero. He lives life on his own terms and is able to love what he does for a living. Theroux's talent for words is underrated, in my estimation, with the reading public. Everyone knows his best selling "The Mosquito Coast", but his non-fiction travel books are the best there are on the market ("Riding The Iron Rooster", his travels through China/Russia is excellent). His fiction novels have been hit/miss with me the past few years though, and I feel it's because he was ...more
Roger Miller
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The best novel I've read in several years, and a beautifully-written climax to a distinguished writing career. I've enjoyed Theroux's fiction and nonfiction work for many years, but this is his best work yet. A great many sentences in this book deserve to be read out loud, like small stanzas of poetry, and a great many penetrating observations on human nature and destiny will cause you to pause and reflect before continuing. Hock is an American in late middle age who loses his marriage and his b ...more
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, reviewed, africa
Ellis Hock’s men’s clothing shop in suburban Boston is out of style and is on the verge of failure. Personally, he is as much out of tune with the times as his store. His wife of more than thirty years thinks that it is time that he graduated to a Smartphone. On his sixty-second birthday she presents him with one. But he doesn’t want it; he is perfectly content with the simplicity of his clamshell phone. For some reason, however, and this is not explained, she decides to keep it, but sets it up ...more
Katie Llewellyn
Mar 04, 2013 rated it it was ok
As an American currently living in Malawi, I heard about this book and thought it might be interesting. I didn't know much about Theroux before this book, but googled him to find out that yes, he actually was serving as a PCV in Malawi in the 60s. But what really bothered me about this book is the incredibly negative way he showed Malawians. Yes, this is one of the poorest countries in the world. But from my experience (and granted, I have only been here four months rather than four years) I hav ...more
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa
Second reading: much the same, still good.

A small allegory of hopelessness, troubling, worrying and despairing. There is perhaps one tiny gleam of hope in it somewhere.

Technically, I admire the descriptions and the use of snakes. I can't agree with those who think this reduces Africans (or Americans) to stereotypes: but the characters are representative, for sure. His bottom line seems to be that plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, and cette chose was never a very healthy thing.

If you wer
Jun 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I waited a long time for Paul Theroux’s newest book and he did not disappoint. Lower River is about a middle age man (Ellis Hock) who greatly desires to return to his beloved Africa but never thought it possible. After his wife leaves him, he returns to Malawi (the village where he spent four years with the Peace Corps in his youth).

Arriving at the worn-out 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 th
Laura Pirtle
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book completely disturbed and exhausted me. It had me depressed, hopeful, curious, eager to continue until the end. It certainly makes me want to be careful going to Africa. It makes benefactors looks naive and ridiculous at times. It was not a comfortable read. It will stay with me a long time. What more could you ask from a book?
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-books-read
I have mixed emotions on this book. I debated on rating it a 3 just for the main character can be very annoying and it was a little too wordy at times. Gave it a 4 for I did finish and I was intrigued to continue reading.
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very quickly takes off with a bang that got my attention away from other genres ... hypnotic, drew me in ... if you don't want to read anything that includes snakes, then don't read :-) but I found the snake knowledge to be fascinating and key to the unfolding of the main character's story. Really fascinating book for me and my first Paul Theroux.
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The edifice of family and business Ellis Hock has built over years all crumbles at once, and he is left abandoned. His marriage is broken mainly by mistake and his daughter ungraciously demands her inheritance. His life's work having betrayed him he seeks past triumphs only to discover their ability to also betray. Seeking to relive a past happiness he leaves home and travels to Malawi to the lower river region he lived in years before as a peace corps volunteer, hoping to find fulfilment in wor ...more
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A Compelling, Mesmerizing Exploration of an American’s Return to Africa

One of our greatest chroniclers in fact and in fiction of Americans living abroad, Paul Theroux returns in this beguiling, compelling, 21st Century version of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", weaving a most fascinating tale of an old American man struggling to reclaim the past glories of his youth as a Peace Corps teacher in a tropical Eden he once knew; a remote Malawi village. Basing the prior African history of his pro
Stephanie Kimball
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
There is a quote on the front of my book.....

"No heart of darkness here...a novel that sheds light on timeless subjects."
--NPR, All Things Considered

There are many timeless subjects weaved into this book. They are subtle at times, but always poignant.

Ellis' journey is so much more than a trip to Africa. It's about looking for that place/space in his past where he was someone else....thinking that he can go back and that the situation will be the same or that he might be remembered as he was 40
Wayne Courtois
Jan 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Have you ever wanted to know what it's like to live in poverty and hunger, in bone-crushing heat, with failing health, nothing to do, and nothing to look forward to? Have I got a book for you!

'The Lower River' is not easy to read because the story is so bleak and oppressive. But at the same time it's a great read. There is a heart beating under the skin of this narrative, and a deep soulfulness in the writing itself. Some of the sentences are so beautiful that I read them over and over. Here is
Apr 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book reminds us that things change and you can never go back. When Ellis Hock's life falls apart, he remembers the great time he had in the peace corp. Decides to return to the remote village at age 60 and re-live the wonderful time he had there when he was young. But hard times and foreign aid have changed the place into a lawless land. "That seem to be a feature of life in the country to welcome strangers to let them live out their fantasy of philanthropy school an orphanage clinic a welf ...more
May 30, 2012 rated it liked it
This was my first foray into Paul Theroux's fiction, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I think that I like his travel books better, but this still has everything that I love about his writing. This is a quick read but it deals with a lot of weighty themes. If you've read Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown, you'll notice a number of parallels between Theroux's own experiences in that book and this fictional one. (I understand that this is common in Theroux's fiction writing.) In fact, ...more
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have read many of Paul Theroux books, the nonfiction travel and the novels, which are, in my mind, travel adventures themselves. I chose 'The Lower River' because of my own recent travel to the African continent, and my lingering questions about those folks who continue to live in mud hut villages and corrugated iron roof shack towns, yet have mobile phones and internet access. My questions still linger. Not the fault of Paul Theroux...the author brings to life that way of living, and the inab ...more
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is utterly terrifying.

Is there such a genre as post-Peace Corps thriller? Post-Peace Corps thriller that makes me rethink my own closely held assumptions about the world and my place in it?

If so, this is the book.

Andrew Hock served in the Peace Corps, did good work, returned home, and lead a life of responsibility for many years. When he retired, he took a bit of money and returned to the African village where he had served with the idea that he might could help out a bit.

The village
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What's with the ending? SPOILER ALERT!! 5 36 Mar 31, 2014 11:15AM  
racist? 2 14 Jan 16, 2014 01:39AM  

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Paul Edward Theroux is an American travel writer and novelist, whose best known work is The Great Railway Bazaar (1975), a travelogue about a trip he made by train from Great Britain through Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, through South Asia, then South-East Asia, up through East Asia, as far east as Japan, and then back across Russia to his point of origin. Although perhaps best know ...more
“No one was interested in Malabo - this was why the people in the village must have suspected him of having a deeper motive for visiting. He wanted something from them - why else would he come all this way to live in a hut? Altruism was unknown. Forty years of aid and charities and NGOs had taught them that. Only self-interested outsiders trifled with Africa, so Africa punished them for it.” 1 likes
“That seemed to be a feature of life in the country [Malawi]: to welcome strangers, to let them live out their fantasy of philanthropy - a school, an orphanage, a clinic, a welfare center, a malaria eradication program, or a church; and then determine if in any of this effort and expense there was a side benefit - a kickback, a bribe, an easy job, a free vehicle. If the scheme didn't work - and few of them did work - whose fault was that? Whose idea was it in the first place?” 1 likes
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