Theroux Writes His Peace Corps Novel

The opening of The Lower River, the next novel by Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963-65), is coming out in the Spring, 2012. It begins:

Even in his best days in Medford, running the family clothing store, Altman had always imagined that he would return to Africa, to the Lower River. It had been his Eden, for those four years he had spent in a village called Malabo as a young man. Now, after nearly forty years, he was on his way back. The decades in between seemed almost a digression: the business, the marriage, the children. Altman’s Store for Men had closed, the marriage had failed, Altman’s children were grown, absent, living their lives. A little over sixty, he was alone again. He had enough money to see him into his old age, yet he wanted more than that. No one needed him in Medford, and he wondered if the people of Malabo might still remember what he had done there.

The central character returns to his Peace Corps village where he built a school over forty years earlier. He remembered his tour fondly for as a PCV, he felt useful. But ‘going home again’ things don’t turn out so well.

He is robbed, becomes sick, and cannot leave. His dream of returning to the place where once he was a ‘legend’ has turned afoul.  Is this what our Peace Corps tours were all about?

Maybe. Remember there is more truth in fiction than in non-fiction.


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  • I am pleased that Theroux decided to take a second look at his service. Our legacy has less to do with “success” than the fact that we tried. Learning a foreign tongue and rolling up your sleeves before asking in their own language, “How can I help?” is quite the example. Likewise, the measure of “Peace Corps Literature” has nothing to do with prizes but rather the effort to record. Two million served under the CCC within a seven year period. Where are the first-hand accounts?

  • Wow! Is this Theroux coming full circle? Perhaps the path was opened in “Dark Safari.” I can’t wait to read this! And to meeting him in Washington. I know, like all his other disciples.

    BTW, I’m using a quote from Paul Theroux in my Haiti memoir and, if he reads this blog, perhaps he remembers in which book he wrote a warning about getting what you ask for. “Asking for everything in the sack includes the sack itself.” I can’t find it.

    So much to look forward to, eh.


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