The Lower River
a novel by Paul Theroux
Paperback, 323 pp., 2012
Reviewed by Melanie Bush
If you want to go back to rural Malawi where you were happy in the Peace Corps forty years earlier… The Lower River, by Paul Theroux tells the story of retired Massachusetts businessman Ellis Hock, who returns to Malabo, a dusty backwater where he spent the happiest years of his life as a young teacher in the 1970s. With spare, powerful prose, Theroux recounts Hock’s narrow escape from an island of feral AIDS-orphaned children, a gang that kidnaps him for ransom, and a predatory NGO whose pop star–ridden photo op he inadvertently ruins, and his realization that the place he remembers through a fatuous haze of nostalgia was brought to ruin not by drought and disease but by decades of colonialists disguised as aid workers, that the heart of darkness can be found not in Africa but in his own chest.
Melanie Bush would rather be out exploring our planet, but since she can’t right now she reads books.