Living on the Edge: Paul Theroux
He went — in the way the Peace Corps rolls the dice of our lives — to Africa as a teacher. “My schoolroom is on the Great Rift, and in this schoolroom there is a line of children, heads shaved liked prisoners, muscles showing through their rags,” he wrote home in 1964. “These children appear in the morning out of the slowly drifting hoops of fog-wisp. It is chilly, almost cold. There is no visibility at six in the morning; only a fierce white-out where earth is the patch of dirt under their bare feet, a platform, and the sky is everything else.”
     How many of us stood in front of similar classrooms and saw those young faces arriving with the dawn? How many of us could have written the same sentiments — though not the same sentences — home? And how many of us wanted to be the writer that he became, the free spirit roaming the world, jotting down notes and writing novels, travel books, short stories and essays?

Paul Theroux
     In thirty-plus years of writing, that RPCV — Paul Theroux (Malawi 1963–65)— has produced some of the most wicked, funny, sad, bitter, readable, knowledgeable, rude, contemptuous, ruthless, arrogant, moving, brilliant and quotable books ever written.
     He began by writing about the life he knew in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

    Three of his first four novels are set in Africa: Fong and the Indians, Girls at Play, and Jungle Lovers. And two of his later novels, My Secret History and My Other Life, recast his Peace Corps tour as fiction.
     In 1996 his first three novels were reissued by Penguin as On the Edge of the Great Rift: Three Novels of Africa, a 644-paperback. Also reissued was Sunrise with Seamonsters, his 1985 collection of essays, as well as his novel My Other Life. And in 1997 from Viking came more than 60 of his short stories in a massive 660-page hardcover collection.
     A number of thematic patterns emerge from Theroux’s work. One that runs through many of his books clearly relates to his experience as a Volunteer in Africa, and these books, I think are his most ambitious and creative. Africa is where Theroux found his literary landscape, his point of view, and even his voice.
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