Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Lower River

The Lower River
Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-547-74650-0
323 pages

The Lower River is a dream of the past for Ellis Hock. Years ago, to avoid the
draft for Vietnam, he joined the Peace Corps. He spent four years during this
time establishing a school in a remote area of Africa in village named Malawi.
Thoroughly enthralled with the people at this time, he felt that he was helping
the world , he felt fulfilled and needed. He had discovered a home.

When his father died, he was called home to take over the family business
running a men's clothing goods store. Falling into the traditional pattern of
life in the U.S., he married and had a daughter. Life was fairly predictable
and uneventful for years. All that changed when his wife gave him a smart

Deena, his wife, had the best intentions when buying this phone. She was
shocked when she downloaded all of Ellis' e-mail for the past year and
discovered his correspondences with female customers. Ellis attempted to let
her know that it was all words with no action, but Deena insisted on counseling
and then a divorce. Their grown daughter was fearful of being deprived of
money in an inheritance if her father remarried, so she also insisted on having
all her money now. With the changing times, Ellis sold the store, paid his
wife and daughter, and dreamed of a time long ago in Africa.

He decided to go back to that remote area of Africa and to continue what he had
started years ago when he felt like he belonged to these people.

However, life is not always as we expect.

Ellis arrived at the village to find things changed from when he was left, but
not for the better.

"And so from the beginning he saw that they were different, and what was more
disturbing, they saw that he was different-utterly unlike themselves, a visitor
from a distant place that was unknown but whispered about, impossibly far,
unreachable from here, where they laid buried in their below ground river

Ellis discovered quickly upon his return that everyone expected money from him,
an infinite supply. The one person who was different from everyone was Gala,
his unrequited love from years ago and her granddaughter, Zizi. These two,
with Ellis, were isolated in that they continued to believe in doing the right
thing and to not take advantage of others.

The only other advantage that Ellis had was his natural attraction for capturing
snakes and everyone else's fear of them. This was an attraction that had
continued from his visit here years ago.

The Lower River is truly an example of living out your dreams only to discover
that they can never be fulfilled because life changes whether you want it to or
not. The intensity of this novel is addictive reading even when you really
don't want to know what happens next. It also gives a strong lesson about our
tendency to create a romanticism of past events to the point of being
unrealistic in your own daily expectations.

Paul Theroux is a true storyteller that keeps you reading to the very last page.
His highly regarded novels include The Mosquito Coast and Dead Hand.

Even for those of us who never plan to visit Africa, The Lower River is a lesson
in human nature and is a must read for every traveler with a realistic
expectation of all our dreams..

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