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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky (1949)

by Paul Bowles

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MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,215631,724 (3.84)153
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    The Immoralist by André Gide (thatguyzero)
  2. 10
    Without Stopping: An Autobiography by Paul Bowles (ominogue)
  3. 00
    Black Sun by Edward Abbey (sturlington)
    sturlington: These two novels reminded me of each other, beyond just the desert setting.
  4. 00
    Black Light: A Novel by Galway Kinnell (EnriqueFreeque)
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    The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (WSB7)
    WSB7: The landscape is a major player in each tale.

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Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Tennessee Williams reviewed this book when it first came out in 1949. This is a quote from his review:

"In its interior aspect, The Sheltering Sky is an allegory of the spritual adventure of the fully conscious person into modern experience."

I'm glad Harper Collins included this review at the back of the book because, otherwise, I would still be struggling to decide what the meaning of the novel was. Certainly the story line (which Williams refers to as "a first-rate story of adventure by a really first-rate author") did not captivate me. This was the story of a husband and wife (Port and Kit) and a male friend (Tunner)who decide to visit northern Africa after the second world war. Port and Kit have an odd relationship. They are not intimate and, in fact, sleep in separate rooms but they do seem to care for one another. Despite that they each have sexual relationships outside of their marriage although they don't seem to get much pleasure from these dalliances either. Tunner (who is the person Kit sleeps with) doesn't seem to be very popular with either of them and Port does all he can to get away from him. In this, he succeeds but then immediately becomes very ill. Kit, stuck in one small room with him in a French fort, tries ineffectually to look after him. Then she escapes one night and discovers Tunner coming off a bus. They spend the night together and when Kit goes back to the room Port is dead. Kit stays in the room for the rest of the day, telling no-one he is dead and then she packs a small bag and leaves the town. She catches a ride with a camel train the next day and becomes the sexual conquest of one of the owners who takes her to his home. Kit is quite content with this arrangement until the camel owner decides to marry her and shower her with jewellery. Then she manages to leave his house and makes contact with the American embassy.

Well, that may be an allegory but I wouldn't really call it a first-rate story of adventure. I think it is a reflection of Bowles' life-style and marriage and I think he was pretty mixed up. I had some sympathy for Kit but none for either of the men. I couldn't believe the whole circumstance and I certainly was incredulous at Kit's actions at the end. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 7, 2017 |
Strangely enough, this novel reminded me strongly of another lesser known classic novel I read last year, Black Sun by Edward Abbey. Both novels were considered minor classics by authors I had heard of and wanted to read. I bought both books because they came in beautifully designed reissued trade paperbacks. Both Abbey and Bowles know the places they write about intimately--the Arizona desert in Abbey's case and the Sahara in Bowles's--and are particularly well gifted in capturing that strong sense of place on the page. And both books degenerate into an unexpectedly offensive male fantasy. (Read my review of Black Sun for more details on that one.)

In The Sheltering Sky, a well-off married couple and their friend go to North Africa--not as tourists, but as travelers--to escape their ennui and find some meaning in their lives. (These people are idle rich; where do they get their money? Bowles never says.) All are poorly equipped for the journey and make extremely bad decisions. It is immediately apparent that the husband, Port, is a selfish prick and we feel no sympathy for him when he becomes ill with typhoid. (He didn't even bother getting immunized before going abroad.) The traveling companion, Tunner, is also completely self-absorbed and rather adolescent in his behavior. The wife, Kit, is a woman completely without agency, who lets things happen to her and then decides afterward how she feels about them. But even with such a character, and even though we know the desert is slowly driving her insane, it is still almost impossible to accept her actions during the final third of the book, and even more impossible to accept that her feelings about what happens to her as depicted are what an actual woman would feel. She seems to exist solely to depend on men and to feel grateful to them for their existence and willing to let them do whatever and to like it.

Here is where the male fantasy comes in. Both Abbey and Bowles have created women who think and behave as they would like to imagine women would behave, not as women actually do. The net result for this female reader is a growing sense of disgust with the writer. This attitude toward women seems much more common in older novels that have been labeled as "classic" than in contemporary novels by male writers, perhaps because men now realize that women are in fact people and should behave as such, or because those male writers who still depict women this way are no longer lauded by critics. Nevertheless, this novel has pretty much turned me off completely on reading classic books written by men, and I guess my education of the white male psyche as depicted in literature is pretty much complete anyway. I did major in English.

By contrast, my discoveries of classic books written by women have been, for the most part, a sheer delight, an unearthing of really good writing that I wasn't before exposed to, or exposed to only in limited qualities. At this point in my reading life, it seems a much more sensible use of my time to continue finding and reading the women writers that my education neglected. In the meantime, this novel sits side by side on the shelf next to the Abbey, waiting to be donated--they seem to deserve each other. ( )
1 vote sturlington | Jul 27, 2017 |
American expatriate Paul Bowles' [The Sheltering Sky] skewers American culture and character in this tale of three "travelers" in North Africa after WWII. Porter Moresby, known as Port, and his wife Kit are accompanied by a bachelor friend named George Tunner. Burdened by ennui and purposelessness, they want to experience different cultures, see different lands. North Africa is their destination, for the simple reason that it is the only place they could get passage to. Upon arrival, Port dislikes the place, but he chose it; they'll experience North Africa with its Arabs, blacks, and other denizens, as well as the French authorities.

The trio remind each other that they are travelers, not tourists.

[Port] did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain .Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.

Their travels are aimless, with the next destination being wherever the next bus is going. "'When are you pulling out of this hellhole?'" Port is asked by a fellow wanderer he's just met.

"Oh, we've been planning to get the train tomorrow for Boussif, but we're not in any hurry. So we may wait until Thursday. The only way to travel, at least for us, is to go when you feel like going and stay where you feel like staying"
  "I quite agree. But surely you don't feel like staying here?"
  "Oh God, no!" laughed Port. "We hate it. But there are three of us, and we haven't all managed to get up the necessary energy at one time."

The Moresbys are no longer intimate and engage separate rooms in whatever hotel they stay in. Tunner dreams of an opportunity to get intimate with Kit (the last thing on Kit's wishlist). Both Moresbys regret having invited Tunner along; he's annoying. Several times they cross paths with a shady mother-son duo driving from place to place in a large, old Mercedes. If this sounds pretty bad, be assured it is bad. It gets worse.

And yet. Yet. I found their journey curiously seductive; certainly, it is strange. Will there be redemption for them across the Sahara? Will they emerge from the desert freshed, inspired, renewed. Don't count on it.

In sum, it's a strange yet alluring story. It was selected by both Modern Library and Time magazine for their Top 100 Novels lists. Time's reviewer: "The last of this book’s three sections, when Kit is given over to her fate in the desert, is one of the damnedest things you will ever read." True. I'm glad I read it.
  weird_O | May 2, 2017 |
It took me a while to get into this book. The story of three Americans traveling in North Africa in the years just after WWII, it felt like a familiar indictment of American naivety and boorishness. But then the story took a wild turn, which I won't reveal here, and I was absolutely hooked. The final few chapters of the book are simultaneously horrifying and exquisite. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
An intense story about complicated characters desperately seeking a way to get back into touch with life, the real life of sex and violence and death, rather than the cultured variant they have grown up in. So they flee from Western culture into the "barbaric" North African desert in the hope of finding a reason to keep on living or if not, a way to death. Not an easy read, immoral (or amoral) at times and very painful at others. Impressive nonetheless and unlike any other novel I have read. ( )
  stef7sa | Jan 5, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
There is a curiously double level to this novel. The surface is enthralling as narrative. It is impressive as writing. But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire. And that is the surface of the novel that has filled me with such excitement.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bowles, PaulAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
康雄, 大久保Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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[Book One]

"Each man's destiny is personal only insofar as it may happen to resemble what is already in his memory."

--Eduardo Mallea
[Book Two]

"'Good-bye,' says the dying man to the mirror they hold in front of him. 'We won't be seeing each other any more.'"

[Book Three]

"From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached."

To Jane
First words
He awoke, opened his eyes.
Si svegliò, aprì gli occhi. La stanza gli diceva poco o niente, profondamente immerso com'era nel non-essere da cui era appena affiorato. Se l'energia di accertare la propria collocazione nel tempo e nello spazio gli mancava, gliene mancava anche il desiderio. Sapeva soltanto di esistere, d'avere attraversato vaste regioni per ritornare dal nulla; c'era, al centro della sua coscienza, la certezza di una tristezza infinita e al tempo stesso rassicurante, perché era la sola ad essergli familiare.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006083482X, Paperback)

American novelist and short-story writer, poet, translator, classical music composer, and filmscorer Paul Bowles has lived as an expatriate for more than 40 years in the North African nation of Morocco, a country that reaches into the vast and inhospitable Sahara Desert. The desert is itself a character in The Sheltering Sky, the most famous of Bowles' books, which is about three young Americans of the postwar generation who go on a walkabout into Northern Africa's own arid heart of darkness. In the process, the veneer of their lives is peeled back under the author's psychological inquiry.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A beautiful, yet disturbing, tale of two people traveling into the Sahara. Although the couple apear to be smart, independent travelers, they are not equipped to travel into the desert. Thus, each time hardship strikes, pieces of their comfortable lives and the identities they had constructed seem to peel away. The shifting sands and unforgiving sun are metaphors for the shocking and vulgar circumstances that befall them.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141023422, 0141187778, 0141195134

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