Uncle Tom

Paul Theroux in Malawi

Well-meaning white man eaten by barbarians in Malawi.

Africans can eat all a white man’s money and then eat him too, warns ‘The Lower River’ by Paul Theroux. The book is also seen by some as a critique of development aid. Uncle Tom says no.

The hero of this book is a nice white man called Hock. He genuinely wants to help us black folks and have sex with black ladies. This, Uncle Tom can’t blame him for because, forgive me, but the book shows how Hocks’ own old lady doesn’t know how to treat a man. Then this man Hock goes to Malawi and the ungrateful black people take all his money and he dies.

When I first read it, I was afraid that they were cannibals. A quote in the book says ‘They will eat your money and then they will eat you.’ The children in the book all have Aids and want to bite him, too. Fortunately, the writer doesn’t make the Malawi barbarians actually eat the white man – they just suck him dry and kill him, may the Lord forgive me and my African brothers who still live in the darkness.

It is a criticism of development aid, the other reviews say. The blacks in the book speak of ‘projects’ that they need money for and the ‘ownership’ they seek of these projects. ‘Projects’ is their way of saying the white man’s money. Now even me, Uncle Tom, when a rich man comes to my place and wants to give me money for a project, I am not going to say no. I am going to do what he says, because it means money. But I don’t kill him!

In Malawi, it seems, they forgot how to treat the white man. They don’t let him leave the village. Now this is just stupid. If the white man wants to go to the capital, I take him to the capital – I carry him on my back if I must. If I do that, he’ll feel even guiltier and he’ll want to help me even more. This book made Uncle Tom think of that other book, in which all the black guys want to rape all the white ladies. It’s a disgrace, that’s what it is.