the Lower River by Paul Theroux (2012)
“Just like them, he was a wisp of diminishing humanity, with nothing in his pockets–hardly had pockets!–and he felt a lightness because of it. With no money he was insubstantial and beneath notice. As soon as everyone knew he had nothing, they would stop asking him for money, would stop talking to him altogether, probably. Yet tugging at this lightness was another sensation of weight, his poverty like an anchor. He couldn’t move or go anywhere; he had no bargaining power. He was anchored by an absence of money, not just immovable but sitting and slipping lower.”
Ellis Hock is not satisfied with his life in the small town of Medford, just outside Boston. His wife has left him, his daughter is spoiled and ungrateful and his clothing business is struggling as there isn’t any need for well-made and expensive clothes any more. He often dreams of the peaceful and easy days he spent as a teacher at the Lower River in Malawi when he was younger. And then he decides to go back. But instead of finding the beloved village he left about 40 years earlier, he finds a place which turns into a nightmare.

The inhabitants of the village has heard of the famous Ellis who has a fascination with snakes, but all they want from him is money. The school he built is long gone and so is the clinic, all that is left are hungry, angry people and the ruins. He tries to escape, but the chief discovers his plans every time.

I hated the naive, helpless and whiny Ellis and I hated the bleak picture Theroux painted of Africa. Yet Theroux writes well. Still it was one of those books that was annoying and the fact that the book is full of snakes didn’t make reading it more pleasant.  I read the Mosquito Coast a few years back, and that was not a very pleasant read either. I guess I have to read Paul Theroux when I need a pessimistic world view.

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