Book Talk: Former Peace Corp volunteer finds Africa changed

Thu Jun 28, 2012 5:22am EDT
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By Nick Olivari

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Peace Corps volunteer who views his time in Malawi in the 1960s as the highlight of his life goes back when his marriage falters, only to find the southern African country he remembers has unraveled through poverty and AIDS, or perhaps never existed.

Largely set in a small isolated village in modern Malawi, "The Lower River" is the 29th work of fiction by Paul Theroux, 71.

The protagonist, Ellis Hock, now 62, has led a secure middle-class life owning a menswear shop in Medford, Massachusetts, and is at first welcomed warmly by the villagers on his return to Malawi. Yet amidst the visible ruins of what he began there as a school teacher in his 20s, his romantic vision of the past is shattered when he is trapped by the people he thought to help again.

Award-winning author Theroux talks about his latest book, his experiences from his own time in the Peace Corps in the 1960s and his views on modern day Africa.

Q: In 26 words, what is the book's premise?

A: "It's a story about captivity. A story about a sentimental journey back in time to recapture a former happiness, that turns from idyllic to a place he can't get out of. He's money on two legs."

Q: Why Malawi?

A: "It's a country that I know well. I was in the Peace Corps. I wanted to write about a place I know. I'm writing about a place I lived in and know well, the seasons, the animals, the foliage and the people. The texture of the place is familiar to me. I was there from '63 to '65."   Continued...