Paul Edward Theroux (thuh-REW) is the primary delineator in fiction of Americans in exile and is the best-known American travel writer of his time. He is the son of Albert Eugene, who was a shoe-leather salesman, and Anne Dittami Theroux, a teacher. Among his six siblings is novelist Alexander Theroux. Young Theroux sought privacy from his large family by reading and decided to become a writer when he was fourteen.
After high school, he attended the University of Maine for one year and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1963. He then briefly went to graduate school at Syracuse University before joining the Peace Corps. He taught English at Soche Hill College in Limbe, Malawi, until October, 1965, when he was arrested and deported for spying and aiding revolutionaries attempting to overthrow the country’s dictator. Theroux had volunteered to be a messenger for the dictator’s leading opponent, not realizing that the man was plotting an assassination. Expelled from the Peace Corps, he lectured at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, until 1968. His first novel, Waldo, was published in 1967, the year he married Anne Castle, a fellow teacher; they have two sons. Theroux taught Jacobean drama at the University of Singapore from 1968 until 1971, when he decided to write full-time. He lived for many years in England, his wife’s native country. Following their divorce, he returned to the United States and settled in East Sandwich, Massachusetts.
Theroux’s fiction reflects his experiences: Most of it deals with exiles, usually Americans, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and England. Fong and the Indians presents a Chinese Catholic living in Kenya and subjected to the prejudice of Africans, Americans, and the British. Jungle Lovers chronicles two Americans trying to improve the lives of the citizens of Malawi and discovering strong resistance to change. Since Theroux’s fiction is ironic and skeptical, the Americans’ motives are ambiguous. The hero of Saint Jack, perhaps Theroux’s best novel, is a middle-aged American hustler and pimp in Singapore. The Black House, a subtle horror tale, concerns an English anthropologist who returns to England after years in Uganda to find himself so alienated that he has an affair with a...
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