The Mosquito Coast By Paul Theroux – a Book Review

The Mosquito Coast By Paul Theroux – a Book Review

By Mahbubul Karim (Sohel)

July 25, 2009

How paranoia can grip and strangle the lives of a family, where imposed fear, albeit hyperbolic, but made real sounding with constant uttering, are deftly told by the author Paul Theroux in this story of adventure, inventions, pain and scavengers. Tones are dramatic in the Mosquito Coast, especially, the grim episodes surrounding the demise of ice maker, are unforgettable.

When facing the invasion by the “city boys” with guns, the “fadder”, Allie Fox, the chattering and towering central character of this marvellous book, tries to protect his sanctuary built in jungle of Honduras. Here is an excerpt:

“See, around here, if there’s no rain, there’s nothing to eat. Ask anyone. We’re down to our last provisions. The ants are all over the place. Our river’s turned into a creek. The next time you come, things will be different.”

“Where are your Zambus?”

Father wrinkled his nose. “Probably thought you were soldiers. They saw your ruckbooses.”

“We do not understand.”

“Arquebuses – guns. You’re in Mosquitia now,” Father said. “I didn’t have time to tell them you were friendly. I imagine they are out dripping their arrows in poison, aren’t they, Charlie?”

He was casual in the way he said this. And I knew from his voice what he wanted me to reply. I said, “Yes.”

“You sure had them fooled!” He had become jolly.”

And here is an excerpt describing the protagonist’s one of many reasons to take this journey: “We eat when we're not hungry, drink when we are not thirsty, buy what we don't need, and throw away everything that's useful. Don't sell a man what he wants - sell him what he doesn't want. Pretend he's got eight feet and two stomachs and money to burn. That's not illogical - it's evil.”

For Allie Fox, the inventor, “Revealing something's use, and magnifying it; discovering its imperfections, improving it, and putting it to work for you. God had left the world incomplete, he said, and it was man's job to understand how it worked, to tinker with it, and to finish it. I think that was why he hated missionaries so much - because they taught people to put up with their earthly burdens. For father, there were no burdens that couldn't be fitted with a set of wheels, or rudders, or a system of pulleys.”

One man’s heart out efforts in building a civilization in the middle of a jungle for his family, denying the reality, even concocting his own reality by proclaiming the entire world was destroyed, and his is the last family in the world, always conquering obstacles by going against the current, to the “upriver”, withstanding droughts, mosquito bites, circling scavengers, men with guns, starvations, storms, and sour wabool, while bringing “Ice” to indigenous people in deep recess of thickened trees, mountains and valleys, building a “Fat Boy”, the ice maker, without any moving parts, in the hope of uplifting the forgotten Zambus and Indians in their mud and vine knotted huts. He had caustic words toward anything related to religions and God, but in his delusional progressions, making his own rigid rules in the form of commandments, proclaiming him the “Captain” of the ship resembling the omnipotence of a deity that he so fervently is against.

His family became despondent. Their tears and pleas for reasoning turned into conflicting surrender to this endless paranoia. His wife, sometimes arguing, but mostly complacent, knowing that her “Allie” left his homeland because “he hated it the way it was. That’s why he left. That’s why we’re here. He’ll never go back.” Her paralyzing dependence on “Allie” made her respond to her sons’ pleas to leave, “What about me?” she said. “Don’t you think I’d jump at the chance to go? But look how dark it is. Dad’s not here. I’m always so frightened when he’s away.”

Allie Fox knew it. And his selfish but inventive mind utilized this weakness to its fullest, depriving his loved ones the truth with his domineering personality and seemingly all encompassing knowledge and skills. The slowly but surely building tensions among his sons, culminating into horrifying end, makes one ponder of the wasted opportunities of this endless energy emanating from this creative fictional persona, amid “monkey howls in this pit of unspeakable darkness. Googn! Googn! Googn! Googn!”

Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast is a must read and I am very thankful to a friend from British Columbia who gave this book to me as a gift last month, and quite possibly I wouldn’t have read it otherwise. It was indeed, in Mr. Haddy’s words, an “eesperience”!