"The Lower River" by Paul Theroux (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Reading a Paul Theroux book is like a visit with an old friend—no matter when you see her, you pick up where you left off, even after many years.  We have read most of Theroux’s books (46 of them), from his great, misanthropic travel adventures (The Great Railway Bazaar), through his excellent fiction (The Mosquito Coast) to his more recent, and often less satisfying books.  

Theroux began writing fiction about his experiences in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi.  He loved his work, but viewed situations through a fatalistic lens. He became politically active and was deported from Malawi and the Peace Corps. He returned to Uganda as a teacher for two years, then again left during political turmoil. In the last ten or 15 years, he returned to Africa. First with the starkly realistic and depressing journey from North Africa to Cape Town, Dark Star Safari.  He found no hope or joy to report.  The Lower River is the fictionalized account of a Peace Corps volunteer who returns to his “home” in Africa as a retiree and finds no hope or joy. It is traditional, dark Theroux.  

On the good side, Theroux is an excellent writer and you sink into his easy prose style and float through the journey in the hands of a master.  It’s a dark story well told, and so much better and meatier than what passes for Best Sellers today.