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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky (1949)

by Paul Bowles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Bowles' characters suffer from severe forms of alienation. When a main character dies (something that still shocks us when it happens in literature), that nasty thing known as brutal reality rears its ugly head. With Bowles' characters and strangers are forced together, and then some kind of strangeness always starts to take over the story. This strangeness always seems to blossom out of the cultural differences between them. A very bleak desert, but it is explored in the blistering heat of Bowles’ gloriously revealing imagination. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |

Later ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 26, 2015 |
One of Time magazine's 20th Century bests? Oh, please. It is so contrived and would have been better left to some 50's man's magazine. Set in North Africa, these two charmless, dim-witted characters try to rekindle the romance in their marriage. Of course, they wander off in separate, unknown directions, get lost, nearly killed, the wife nearly enslaved... Oh, and this is supposed to show alienation of America from the rest of the world. Who thought that crap up? Not a good read. I've noticed that the selections by Time often stress the deviant (whether authors or subjects of novels) as being somehow more virtuous than quality fiction. Absurd. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
I think this is one of those books that are open to wide interpretation. Apart from eloquent description of the Sahara desert and its culture, it's a daring and exploratory trip into human psyche.

On the surface of it - a young American couple (even though in name only, for the moment), moderately seasoned by travel up to this point, with another friend by their side, escape to travel in North Africa, away from Europe, ravaged by Second World War. That's one thing. But dig deeper, and there is more to it. The two main characters agonizingly struggle with their feelings and intentions, revealing them (in their own minds) with brutal honesty that brings forth painful, raw emotions. Kit is fighting a feeling of constant doom that sometimes totally paralyzes her, leaving her deeply unhappy and disturbed; Port is dealing with issues of rekindling their relationship (if only she could think "his way"...) and seemingly cannot escape from the "cage he had built long ago to save himself from love". Both agree that Sahara can somehow be a magic remedy for them; and for both, as Port declares, the following is true: "We've never managed, either of us, to get all the way into life. We're hanging onto the outside for all we're worth, convinced we are going to fall off at the next bump."

The third companion plays the part only to the extent of being a pawn - they resort to him when needed and then they avoid him. Not that he doesn't deserve such treatment - for he has his own selfish motives that brought him on this journey.

The first part of the book is mostly this kind of pensive mental struggle, in the second one - the struggle becomes physical, brought on by the alien to them climate and culture and by other trials. From this point it becomes more than just painful philosophical ruminations on life and their place in it. Struggle for survival ensues. For one of them the end is ambiguous.

A local man observes to Kit: "Here we say that life is a cliff, and you must never turn around and look back when you are climbing". But even a statement like that, close to the end of the book, could not lift the oppressively heavy feeling I had after reading it. The book wore me out. Emotionally. Plus, one thing that I thought lacking - the history of the couple's relationship leading up to this extraordinary and tragic trip through North Africa (the meager hints of that didn't seem to be enough). ( )
1 vote Clara53 | Jun 6, 2014 |
Vivid and heartbreaking, rich with limpid metaphor, and some of the travel-brochurier bits about North Africa were fun ("being a traveller and not a tourist," I'm gonna go ahead and give Bowles the credit to assume, not the cliche then that it is.) But occasionally grimy-feeling, and I'm not sure about the psychological reality of the characters. Of the main trifecta, Tunner seems a caricature. Kit suffers from being forced to serve as the vessel within which some very unreconstructed mid-twentieth-century conceptions of what a woman is play themselves out; I found her twisted journey of rape and insanity in the last third of the book perhaps more compelling than risible on balance, but I'm not sure I liked myself much for being compelled. And Port was superficially appealing, wandering the paths of the earth in search of a clean soul, but on balance I think that he spoke less to certain parts of me than to certain parts of how I'd like to see myself. (Bruce Chatwin would do the same character better in his writings starring himself.) The minor characters were better. I see other reviewers have made similar comments. ( )
  MeditationesMartini | Apr 16, 2014 |
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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.

» Add other authors (30 possible)

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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An edition of this book was published by The Library of America.

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