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The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
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The Sheltering Sky (1949)

by Paul Bowles

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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.

He
[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 |
Never really connected with it; I don't have any more nuanced sense of why I left off midway. Seemed sort of exoticized sub-Fitzgerald. Could be one to take another look at sometime though. ( )
  drenglish | Dec 22, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 56 (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 (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bowles, PaulAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
康雄, 大久保Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
[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.'"

--Valery
[Book Three]

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

--Kafka
Dedication
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)

» see all 3 descriptions

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141023422, 0141187778, 0141195134

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