The Lower River
When he was a young man, Ellis Hock spent four of the best years of his life with the Peace Corps in Malawi. So when his wife of forty-two years leaves him, he decides to return to the village where he was stationed in search of the happiness he’d been missing since he left. But what he finds is not what he expected. The school he built is a ruin, the church and clinic are gone, and poverty and apathy have set in among the people.
They remember Ellis and welcome him with open arms. Soon, however, their overtures turn menacing; they demand money and refuse to let him leave the village. Is his new life an escape or a trap?
“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
“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.”—New York Times Book Review
Then he slept, the sudden honking, sweating, late-afternoon slumber brought on by heat and despair. He dreamed of being in a dusty sunlit room, hearing voices. And then he knew he wasn’t dreaming—the voices were those of the boys, talking about him to Manyenga, murmuring. “He is sick.” “Not sick, my friend. He is strong.” “Old, too”—another voice. “White men can be old and still have heart.” The first words had woken him, but instead of sitting up he remained still, crumpled on the mat,
and the turban wound round her head against the sun gave her stature, made her seem exotic and stylish, as Hock followed. The sight at the clinic was old and familiar, even uplifting: hopeful villagers waiting at the open doorway, a long line of them, forty or more, women carrying infants in cloth slings, men squatting, some boys, their hands on their brows to shield their faces from the sunlight—all gathered here to see the doctor, as in years past. “Where’s his vehicle?” “He has no vehicle,”
was free of traffic, and the only people he saw were women walking to market with big cloth bundles on their heads, and men with sacks of flour or rice flopped over the crossbar of their bikes, not riding the bikes but pushing them. He had not forgotten the mango tree and the plump smooth log under it at Magwero, and when he saw it ahead he was excited. Some men were sitting under the tree, two of whom he recognized from his first day. He called out to them as he rode past, steering the bike to
made-up eyes—blue eye shadow—squinting from her puffy face. She smiled wearily and shook her head. “The Mud Ritual, like I was saying—insane. People were copulating. I got mud in my hair and my clothes were filthy. I’ve been doing laundry for two days.” “Copulating?” Jerry was beaming at her. “In the mud,” she said. “Big turn-on. But not for me. Some of these people just take advantage. The things they put in their bodies! One of them tosses a beer can onto the ground and I goes, ‘This is the
and dangerous.” Aubrey laughed. “Some of the villages are dirty, but they’re not dangerous. They love the food drops.” “What’s a food drop?” “Chopper flies into a prearranged site and unloads.” “On the Lower River?” Hock asked, pretending ignorance. “All over.” “I’d like to see it sometime.” “It’s usually a zoo.” “Why is that?” “Free food. Hungry people. Do the math.” Now Hock began to hate him, but before he could say anything more, Aubrey looked at his watch, which hung loosely, like a