Reading Mindfully: Dave Eggers’ “The Man at the River”

Reading Mindfully: Dave Eggers’ “The Man at the River”

Image: Isaac Levitan, A River, 1888, [Public Domain] via

Each month we offer you a chance to read mindfully, using literature to consider your reactions to and assumptions about the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and accompanying questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Grab a friend, family member or colleague to read, share and discuss together.

A prolific author of novels, nonfiction books, short stories, screenplays and more, Dave Eggers was raised in Lake Forest, Illinois. At age 21, he withdrew from college to care for his 8-year-old brother after losing both parents to cancer, events that are chronicled in his memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His narrative essay “The Man at the River” appeared in Granta Magazine and tells the story of an American tourist in Sudan who is faced with a choice when he’s asked to wade across a river.

As you read “The Man at the River,” consider these questions:

  • Do the views of others impact your choices when it comes to safety?
  • How do we navigate cultural barriers to communication and understanding?
  • Did the American make the right choice in the end? What would you have done?

The Man at the River
By Dave Eggers

There is an American sitting by a narrow caramel-coloured river in South Sudan. His Sudanese friend, ten years his junior, has brought him to the area, and they have been touring around on bicycles, riding on dirt trails. This day, his Sudanese friend wanted to show the American man a town on the other side of the river, and so they rode a few miles to the riverbank, to this spot, where the river was shallow and slow-moving, and the Sudanese friend waded across.

But the American man decided he couldn’t wade across the river. He had cut his shin a few days before, and the cut was unbandaged and deep enough that he is concerned that something in the river, some parasite or exotic microbe, will get into his body via this wound, and, because they are hours away from any Western medical care, he might get sick and die here. So he’s chosen not to wade across the river. He’s chosen to sit on the rocks of the riverbed, and wait.

The heat is extreme, and he and his Sudanese friend have been biking for hours, on and off, so the American is happy to have some time alone. But soon the American is not alone. There is a tall man wading across the river toward him, a friend of his Sudanese friend. The American fears what news this second friend could be bringing, why his friend hadn’t come himself.

Continue reading in Granta.

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Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan

Maredith Sheridan is a Development Communications Associate at the Cleveland Orchestra and a part-time member of the Books@Work team. She continues to write posts for our blog.