Terri Vlasak's Reviews > The Lower River

The Lower River by Paul Theroux
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's review
Jul 15, 2012

really liked it
Read from August 05 to 18, 2012

Adventure can be exhilarating - it can be frightening - it can be deadly. In Paul Theroux's The Lower River, altruism can be exhilarating, frightening, and deadly as well. In The Lower River, Theroux takes a frightening look at a 21st century version of the 'noble savage' -corrupted by modernization, made desperate by want and hunger, made vicious by condescension - this time in a desolate village in modern day Africa. Ellis Hock, at 60, is facing the divorce of his longtime spouse and retirement from a business in which he was never truly engaged. He recognizes that he has few friends, his only daughter views him as little more than an obstacle to the meager inheritance that awaits her. At 60, he finds himself unloved and insignificant. No wonder he is overtaken by nostalgia as he recalls the happiest times of his life, the time just after college when as a peace corp worker in Africa he built a school and taught the local village children. He recalls this time in Malabo, on the Lower River, as a time of happiness and optimism, a time when he believed in his power to change the world for the better through his actions.

Now, forty years later, Ellis plans to return to Malabo, as generous benefactor. He plans to share the rewards of his industrious life (at least what remains after settling up with his wife and daughter) with the village; to repair the school and to invest in new books, new writing tablets, markers, pencils. To share his wealth with those in need. In this way, he plans to restore his faith in the world and the people who inhabit it. He hopes to selvage his life - one he had come to regret.

But the Africa of his memory has changed - or maybe, it never existed at all. Ellis, the sage benefactor, does find a new purpose on his return to Malabo. His new purpose is fundamental survival. Ellis abandons his higher quest for a better, idyllic life and fights instead to escape this 'eden' and return to the freedom offered by the old life he had hoped to escape. I liked this book - except for the ending - a lot. Theroux seemed to get tired of writing and just plopped one in. Who knows - maybe his deadline came up faster than expected. None the less - I enjoyed the book very much. Recommended.

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