Published January 31. 2013 4:00AM
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Theroux is one of those acclaimed authors I've long been meaning to read but somehow never got around to, until "The Lower River" recently caught my eye on the new books shelf at the library. His latest in a long collection of travel books and fiction, this 2012 novel takes place in the southeast African nation of Malawi, one of the world's poorest and harshest countries, where HIV/AIDS and short lives are the norm. The story centers around Ellis Hock, a 60-something men's clothing store owner who dreams of recapturing his happiest days as a teacher for the Peace Corps in Malawi and escaping his failed marriage and obsolete business. His return, however, brings him into an unwelcoming, embittered world where cynicism and trickery are the essential tools of strength and survival. This is a sad though compelling and thought-provoking tale of American hubris and naïveté exposed by the realities of the third world, well told through unique characters and a plot paced to keep the reader engaged.
- JUDY BENSON