Award winning writer Paul Theroux draws upon personal experience of living in Malawi in his eye-opening novel, about one man's return to an Africa he no longer recognises, The Lower River.
'In the small screen of the rear-view mirror skinny arms and small faces were sucked into the distance, jumping children and staring men, pinched by the receding road and the shaken curtains of elephant grass. From the dark water glinting at the end of trampled paths he saw that he was leaving the river behind, surfacing after months of holding his breath.
'The dust rose up behind the van, a brown rearing dust-snake. Each time he looked there was more dust, uncoiling in pursuit, but so like a dissolving mirage that he stopped looking back, and lifted his eyes from the mirror to the wider road ahead.'
Ellis Hock never believed he would ever return to Africa - to his isolated village where he was happiest. He runs an old-fashioned menswear store in a small town in Massachusetts but still dreams of his Eden in Africa, 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, and his daughter demands her share of his eventual will, he realizes that there is one place for him to go: back to Malawi, on the remote Lower River, where he will be happy again.
Arriving at the dusty 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 amongst the people. They remember him - the foreigner with no fear of snakes - and welcome him back. But is his new life, his journey back, an escape or a trap?
Interweaving memory and desire, hope and despair, salvation and damnation, this is a hypnotic, compelling and brilliant return to a terrain no one has ever written better about than Theroux: the tragic stage of modern Africa, AIDS-ravaged and despairing in the face of creeping consumerism, greed and dependence.
American travel writer Paul Theroux is known for the rich descriptions of people and places that is often streaked with his distinctive sense of irony; his novels and collected short stories, My Other Life, The Collected Stories, My Secret History, The Stranger at the Palazzo d'Oro, A Dead Hand, Millroy the Magician, The Elephanta Suite, Saint Jack, The Consul's File, The Family Arsenal, The Mosquito Coast, and his works of non-fiction, including the iconic The Great Railway Bazaar are available from Penguin.