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The Sheltering Sky (1949)

by Paul Bowles

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,001742,486 (3.84)182
A beautiful paperback edition of a landmark of 20th Century literature, by acclaimed author Paul Bowles In this classic work of psychological terror, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans apprehend an alien culture--and the ways in which their incomprehension destroys them. The story of three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky is at once merciless and heartbreaking in its compassion. It etches the limits of human reason and intelligence--perhaps even the limits of human life --when they touch the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the dessert.… (more)
  1. 31
    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 (absurdeist)
  5. 11
    The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (WSB7)
    WSB7: The landscape is a major player in each tale.

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» See also 182 mentions

English (65)  Spanish (5)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (73)
Showing 1-5 of 65 (next | show all)
dizzying, stunning, haunting...left me unsteady and dazed ( )
  mortalfool | Jul 10, 2021 |
My first impression was that this was a good book that had not aged well. I could see how the characters aloofness and sense o displacement in the world would appeal to readers in a post WWII world, but personally I had trouble engaging with them and their story. I also could see in their “search of meaning” the seeds that led to the cultural changes in the 1960’s, as if these characters were in the front line of the thousands that followed backpacking foreign lands, and trying out at a sexual revolution that at the end was more contriving than liberating.

I should also add that the character of Kit made me think that Paul Bowles had arrived at “existentialism” without ever going through “women’s lib”. (This seems to be true of most existentialists of the time. Just ask Simone de Beauvoir)

For what is worth, I did enjoy Bowles’ prose and I know certain passages will stay with me: the tree girls becoming sand, Port’s delirium, descriptions of the desert. But overall, at this point, I feel I built up too much expectation about this book and it did not deliver.
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
I am partial to non-American settings. I am also partial to Jennifer Connelly's dangerously seductive audiobook reading of this well-known novel. It is the first I have read by Paul Bowles, and it reminded me a little of Woman in the Dunes, but I preferred the simplicity of that work. It is definitely a psychological work, with well-written narration, however I was not immensely affected by the struggles of its characters. I might be alone in this, but many of their actions and choices struck me as avoidable.

I will certainly read more Bowles, but I would not call Sheltering Sky a must-read. It has a good sense of place, rhythmic prose, and some startling moments of epiphany - one might argue a few too many. In a way it felt forced, but it managed to capture my imagination. In the end, Hemingway managed to juggle the character issues and war-torn atmosphere better in his works, but this is an above-average, memorable tale. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
"He 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."

"Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home."

"And she had accompanied him without reiterating her complaints too often or too bitterly."

"...another important difference between a tourist and a traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking."

"...she was saved from prettiness by the intensity of her gaze."

"The people of each country get more like the people of every other country. They have no character, no beauty, no ideals, no culture--nothing, nothing."

"For years it had been one of is superstitions that reality and true perception were to be found in the conversation of the laboring classes. Even though now he saw clearly that their formulas of thought and speech are as strict and as patterned, and thus as far removed from any profound expression of truth as those of any other class, often he found himself still in the act of waiting, with the unreasoning belief that gems of wisdom might yet issue from their mouths."

"A great part of her life was dedicated to the categorizing of omens."

"The dining room was unfriendly and formal to a degree which is acceptable only when the service is impeccable..."

"It depends on your conception of propriety, baby."

"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."

"His emotional maneuvers all take place out in the open."

"Her life had been devoid of personal contacts, and she needed them."

"...she had come to accept the dispute as the natural mode of talking."

"In normal situations she felt that Port was inclined to lack understanding, but in extremities no one else could take his place; in really bad moments she relied on him utterly, not because he was an infallible guide under such circumstances, but because a section of her consciousness annexed him as a buttress, so that in part she identified herself with him."

"As she stared she found herself wondering why it was that a diseased face, which basically means nothing, should be so much more horrible to look at than a face whose tissues are healthy but whose expression reveals an interior corruption."

"You're never humanity; you're only your own poor hopelessly isolated self."

"...I'm not sure I prefer the warm countries. I don't know. I'm not sure I don't feel that it's wrong to try to escape the night and winter, and that if you do you'll have to pay for it somehow."

"She did not answer. It made her sad to realize that in spite of their so often having the same reactions, the same feelings, they never would reach the same conclusions, because their respective aims in life were almost diametrically opposed."

"It was such places as this, such moments that he loved above all else in life; she knew that, and she also knew that he loved them more if she could be there to experience them with him. And although he was aware that the very silences and emptinesses that touched his soul terrified her, he could not bear to be reminded of that. It was as if always he held the fresh hope that she, too, would be touched in the same way as he by solitude and the proximity to infinite things."

"Sometimes she thought he meant that it was his only hope, that only if she were to become as he was, could he find his way back to love, since love for Port meant loving her--there was no question of anyone else."

"And just as she was unable to shake off the dread that was always with her, he was unable to break out of the cage into which he had shut himself, the cage he had built long ago to save himself from love."

"I think we're both afraid of the same thing. And for the same reason. We've never managed, either one of us, to get all the way into life. We're hanging on to the outside for all we're worth, convinced we're going to fall off at the next bump."

"Riding down to Boussif he realized he never could tell Kit that he had been back there. She would not understand his having wanted to return without her. Or perhaps, he reflected, she would understand it too well."

"Whenever he was en route from one place to another, he was able to look at his life with a little more objectivity than usual. It was often on trips that he thought most clearly, and made the decisions that he could not reach when he was stationary."

"If he had not been journeying into regions he did not know, he would have found it insufferable. The idea that at each successive moment he was deeper into the Sahara than he had been the moment before, that he was leaving behind all familiar things, this constant consideration kept him in a state of pleasurable agitation."

At one point, waving his hands toward the dark, the chauffeur said: "Last year they say they saw a lion around here. The first time in years. They say it at a lot of sheep. It was probably a panther, though."
"Did they catch it?"
"No. They're all afraid of lions."
"I wonder what became of it."
The driver shrugged his shoulders and lapsed into silence he obviously preferred.
Port was pleased to hear the beast had not been killed.

"But as Port said, one always ends by getting used to anything."

"The soul is the weariest part of the body."

"Everything now depended on him. He could make the right gesture, or the wrong one, but he could not know beforehand which was which. Experience had taught him that reason could not be counted on in such situations. There was always an extra element, mysterious and not quite within reach, that one had not reckoned with. One had to know, not deduce. And he did not have the knowledge."

"It could come about now or later, that much-awaited reunion, but it must be all his doing. Because neither she nor Port had ever lived a life of any kind of regularity, they both had made the fatal error of coming hazily to regard time as non-existent. One year was like another year. Eventually everything would happen."

"...his books and furniture had been sent down from Bordeaux by his family, and he had experienced the pleasure of seeing them in new and unlikely surroundings."

"It takes energy to invest life with meaning, and at present this energy was lacking."

"She smiled scornfully, since she considered his vague generalities the most frivolous kind of chatter--a mere vehicle for his emotions. According to her, at such times there was no question of his meaning or not meaning what he said, because he did not know really what he was saying."

"There was nothing to do but refuse to be sick, once one was this far away from the world."

"But if they elected to place obstacles in their own way--and they so clearly did, encumbering themselves with every sort of unnecessary allegiance--that was no reason why they should object to his having simplified his life."

"He had not even mentioned the idea to Kit; she surely would have killed it with her enthusiasm."

"...he could not establish a connection in his mind between the absurd trivialities which filled the day and the serious business of putting words on paper."

"As long as he was living his life, he could not write about. Where one left off, the other began, and the existence of circumstances which demanded even the vaguest participation on his part was sufficient to place writing outside the realm of possibility."

"You should be a Jew in Sba, and you would learn not to be afraid! At least you would learn not to be afraid of God. You would see that even when God is most terrible, he is never cruel, the way men are."

"These were the first moments of a new existence, a strange one in which she already glimpsed the element of timelessness that would surround her. The person who frantically has been counting the seconds on his way to catch a train, and arrives panting just as it disappears, knowing the next one is not due for many hours, feels something of the same sudden surfeit of time, the momentary sensation of drowning in an element become too rich and too plentiful to be consumed, and thereby made meaningless, non-existent."

"Now she did not remember their many conversations built around the idea of death, perhaps because no idea about death has anything in common with the presence of death."

"No tears flowed; it was a silent leave-taking."

"She felt a strange intensity being born within her. As she looked about the quiet garden she had the impression that for the first time since her childhood she was seeing objects clearly. Life was suddenly there, she was in it, not looking through the window at it."

"Swiftly she walked along, focusing her mind on that feeling of solid delight she had recaptured. She had always known it was there, just behind things, but long ago she had accepted not having it as a natural condition of life. Because she had found it again, the joy of being, she said to herself that she would hang on to it no matter what the effort entailed."

"...he felt that it would be only later, when he had come to the full acceptance of the fact of his death, that he would be able to begin reckoning his loss in detail."

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

"Cry a little while, but not too long. A little while is good. Too long is bad. You should never think of what if finished."

"Someone once said to her that the sky hides the night behind it, shelters the person beneath from the horror that lies above."

"Everything's lost," said Mrs. Moresby in a low voice.

"It's funny," went on Miss Ferry. "The desert's a big place, but nothing really ever gets lost there." ( )
  StephenLegg | Dec 3, 2019 |
A difficult book with beautiful writing. I can see why people come back to it because there is much to chew on. For me, the most alluring aspect was the terrible, relentless setting. ( )
  Seafox | Jul 24, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 65 (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.

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul Bowlesprimary authorall editionscalculated
康雄, 大久保Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Theroux, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolff, MariaTranslatorsecondary 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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A beautiful paperback edition of a landmark of 20th Century literature, by acclaimed author Paul Bowles In this classic work of psychological terror, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans apprehend an alien culture--and the ways in which their incomprehension destroys them. The story of three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky is at once merciless and heartbreaking in its compassion. It etches the limits of human reason and intelligence--perhaps even the limits of human life --when they touch the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the dessert.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141023422, 0141187778, 0141195134


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