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The Sheltering Sky is a landmark of twentieth-century literature. In this intensely fascinating story, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans' incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of those cultures.

A story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky explores the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Topics: Africa

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780062119339
List price: $5.99
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Unrelenting nihilist perspective. Part of the way through this book, I thought "I should spend my precious moments reading things that appeal to me, instead of forcing myself to finish, no matter what." In the future, I will strive to recall this book and these thoughts and act accordingly...more
Oh I finished this one about three weeks ago but geez where does the time go? Well, I guess I think that the main crux of the book lies within it's overall storytelling and I thought the imagery of North Africa was sometimes striking but Bowles's attempts at character development fell flat with me. Even worse, I hated all of the main characters so when trouble befell them, I couldn't care less. I was hoping they'd all get eaten by a lion halfway through the book and Bowles would find some more decent subjects to write about. Well, that's probably a bit harsh. Suffice it to say if you are just wondering how three Americans would do in North Africa, you might like this book. For me, not so much...more
The characters are extremely unsympathetic, but I suppose that is part of the point. The real star here is Morocco and the desert.more
Port and Kit travel to North Africa , ostensibly to cure their marital malaise, accompanied by their friend Tunner. But the exotic cultures and customs they encounter in the vast, cruel desert are incomprehensible to them and only serve to test the limits of their humanity.Bowles’ book is both beautiful and cruel – interesting and hostile. The landscape and cultures are characters in the tale on their own and provide a fascinating backdrop for an examination of sad, provocative people.Bottom Line:Beautiful and cruel book4 bones !!!!more
Loved the book, loathed the people -- an odd reaction to an odd book. Normally, I have great trouble getting into a novel if I can't feel some sympathy for and interest in at least a few of the characters, but that's not the way "The Sheltering Sky" worked. The story is hypnotic, a journey further and further into the Sahara, and further and further away from the normal markers of identity. The language is very beautiful, painfully precise in its descriptions of people, lyric in discussing scenery, and hallucinatory when we enter into the minds of the characters. Those two things, the story and the language, kept me reading until I had finished the book, in one session. But all the while I wondered why I was reading about these people -- rich Americans drifting aimlessly about, from emptiness to more emptiness (why can't they get jobs, or have children, or do something USEFUL??) Anyway, a powerful book that is lingering in my memory with extraordinary persistence.more
The juxtaposition of existential ennui, adventure, and ill-fated romance are unforgettable. This book made such a profound impression on me back when I read it some years ago, I don't want to re-read it lest I'm left with less impact.more
"...he had only to see a map to begin studying it passionately, and then, often as not, he would begin to plan some new, impossible trip which sometimes eventually became a reality. 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. ...another important difference between tourist and 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." ~Paul Bowles (page 6)My interest in the convergence of cultures and the crossing of lines are generally two-fold. (1) How is identity threatened and reconstructed? (2) How and why are cultural/societal/belief lines so rigidly enforced? and how can they be circumvented without paying "the cost of life?"Paul Bowles opens with his definition of a tourist versus a traveler. Having set the stage with this distinction, the book delves into the disintegration of self which is the risk of the cultural/ideological traveler. Excellent and thought-provoking.From my perspective, being a tourist is not a negative thing. It is much better than those who never leave home. The tourist brings back some perspective of another way, but has no reason to adjust their own since of self. The traveler, on the other hand, becomes more psychologically flexible...finding self in identifications that are individual and impermanent....individual in the sense that they are not a part of a Whole which a community has agreed upon...but are self-constructed from many communities. The traveler always runs the risk of fragmentation and disintegration. I don't think a traveler is capable of being just a tourist.more
The Sheltering Sky is a real bummer to read, one of those "classics" that one can only suffer through. What little there is by way of plot starts at bad and proceeds to much worse. The biographical notes in this edition say that the period when Bowles wrote this coincided with his becoming a heavy user of cannabis derivatives kif and majoun. This could account for the paranoid haze that permeates the story. In any case its unpleasant dissonance makes for a sad waste of a brilliant metaphor, "the sheltering sky".more
BkC8) [THE SHELTERING SKY] by [[Paul Bowles]]: Tedious twaddle.When I'm right, I'm right.The Book Report: Kit and Port Moresby (get the Australia/New Guinea colonial joke, huh? huh? How clever is Paul Bowles, right?) are not gonna make it as a couple. They just aren't. So, in time-honored rich-couple-in-over-relationship fashion, they Travel. They don't take a trip, or a vacation, oh perish forbid, they Travel. North Africa, they think, no one we know will be there so we won't have to confront how little is left of what was a marriage.So, this being midcentury fiction, while they Travel, they pick up a guy named Tunner who is also Traveling with his Mama. (Code of the day for "he's a fag.") I would say "hijinks ensue," but they really, really don't.My Review: Tunner and Kit. Tunner and Port. Port and Kit. Find me some sexual heat in any of these variations. G'wan g'wan double-dog dare ya.Arab as Wily Native. Murrikin as Rich Rube. Okay, been there done that, even in 1949...sixty-three years ago this wasn't an under-used trope, and by now it's a dreary cliche when used without irony or other meta-element to waft away its corpse-like odor.Books told in dialogue. Really now. Robert Pinget did it better.So "tedious twaddle" remains my judgment. Gay rights have swept away the shock, shock! of Port and Tunner's implied affair. Kit's a dreary stereotype of the Bored White Woman Seeking Dusky Lover. Whatever value the book still has, it's in the language, which I myownself found very close to intolerably dull and lifeless.I suppose I have to give this Ambien-between-covers two stars because there will be lynch mobs of admirers outside my door anyway, but if I gave it the 1/2 star I think it actually deserves, there'd be snipers and Inquisitionists too. But god, I feel hypocritical doing it.Run Away! Run Away! Don't even accept a copy as a gift!more
I found this novel underwhelming. The sense of place was wonderful (if a bit romanticized), and in places it read like a sort of travelogue. This was one most interesting parts of it for me. The people seem distant, aloof, and completely cut off from one another. Two of the main characters, Kit and Port, husband and wife, have presumably escaped post-World War II America to explore northern Africa. Tunner, a third wheel, awkwardly tags along, allowing for an additional romantic interest for Kit. The title is highly ironic: Africa has almost nothing to offer these three other than desolation, solitude, and loneliness. The weather is oppressive. It is hardly a wonder why so many people were reminded of Camus' Algeria in their reviews.Much of the novel consists of Kit, Port, and Tunner scurrying from one African city to another, in search of what even they probably do not know. Even though Kit loathes Tunner, they end up taking a train ride together to one of the cities during which they romantically bond (rather unrealistically, considering her contempt for him). In fact, romantic (or at least physical) connections, with the possible exception of the one between Port and Kit, were idealized. For example, early on, Port is led to the tent of a prostitute, Marnhia, whose decoy insists that she is not a prostitute. What seems to be a misunderstanding is really a cultural difference. Much like Nature herself, Marnhia is bleak, alluring, and ultimately incomprehensible.Halfway through the book, Port begins to show some portentous symptoms, including fever and hot and cold spells. Even though he shows no signs of getting any better, Kit has no qualms about leaving him in their hotel room. It will surprise few readers that in this land of exclusion, disconnectedness even from those next to you, and disorientation, Port dies. Just as unbelievable as the trysts between Tunner and Kit and then between Port and Marnhia, as soon as Port dies she leaves the hotel without pausing or grieving. The story of their marriage up to this point had me fairly convinced that they did care for one another, but reading this made me wonder whether Port's love was fully reciprocated.Port Moresby, the name of one of the protagonists, is also the name of Papua New Guinea's capital. I'm not sure whether this could be pure coincidence, but I would be eager to know what anyone else thought of it. Did anyone notice this? It popped right out at me, but I just saw it mentioned in one or two other reviews.Gore Vidal said that Bowles' short stories are "emblematic of the helplessness of an over-civilized sensibility when confronted with an alien culture." Port also makes it clear that he's a traveller instead of a tourist. Those points are central to the book. The first of these will genuinely frustrate those who think that some sort of genuine connection can be made between people of different cultures, and maybe even those of the same culture. As someone who still holds hope, perhaps naively so, for this kind of communication, I found the characters proportionately unconvincing. Personally, I find myself much more oriented toward E. M. Forster's exhortation to "Only connect!" It is what informs all of my reading, my curiosity about the world, and my relationships with others. I realize that my choice is purely an aesthetic one, but Bowles' central message diverged so much from it that I found difficulty making the connection. However, as Forster might be the first to point out, even though I had trouble with its message and characters, this book offered still another opportunity to connect - one which, unfortunately, I'm a worse person for not being able to make.more
It's fascinating how Bowles weaves the three main characters together. He beautifully constructs them so that the reader is able to understand their personal philosophies. Even the minor characters are well done but they are interjected into the plot at random. It works with the plot as a whole, which can be very erratic and unsuspecting at times.more
I enjoyed this book-- both the story and the writing. Bowles is a master of capturing a moment, a feeling, with just the perfect words. Everything he describes comes across as completely unambiguous and familiar. He even made me forget that I hate the desert. The characters are remarkably believable and his portrait of the decaying marriage has so many facets-- each described perfectly from both Kit's and Port's viewpoints. I don't want to spoil the plot, but Book 3 was completely unexpected. I read it in one sitting and it felt like a dream/nightmare. Once I have emerged from the hypnosis of Bowles writing Book 3 will either disgust me or amaze me with its provocative and disturbing insight. I won't know which for a while. I highly recommend this book-- it is not a difficult or long read but high in enjoyment and thought-provoking content. 4 stars (maybe more later)more
On one hand, the language is pure poetry. There's no doubt the book is beautifully written, but it's also very slow going. Many of the themes are just better developed by better writers. Westerners out of their depth in the "uncivilized" colonies is better done by Forster, and the angst and ennui of the leisure class is better done by Fitzgerald. Still, one could do considerably worse than to be compared in any way to Forster and Fitzgerald.more
For some reason, I love books about the desert. This landscape is primal and dangerous and unforgiving--and, therefore, intriging. Bowles' book explores all of these elements of the North African desert. In many ways, it is a depressing book: the characters seem empty and soulless as they search for meaning in Africa's harsh, yet exotic landscapes. Each of the three main characters is forced to confront his/her emotional depths as the book moves from the city to the most remote parts of the desert. They don't all survive the journey.more
The Sheltering Sky is so many things and yet nearly nothing...much like its Saharan setting. So where the Sahara can appear to be a vast and endless nothing of sand, closer examination reveals all sorts of life and stories. And so Paul Bowles tells the story of Port and Kit Moresby as they travel with Tunner deep into the African desert. And yet, this is no simple travelogue novel. Everything has a surface story and then reveals itself later to have far-reaching consequence. As a minor character points out later in the story, The desert's a big place, but nothing really ever gets lost there...Things turn up sometimes months later. There is little that goes on in this novel that does not have consequence in some manner later. For arrogant travelers who have not had a genuine human encounter in years, this is a double-edged sword. Bowle's depictions of the Sahara are beautiful, even as you see the damage that can be inflicted to the physically and spiritually unprepared. But his greater talent seems to be in presenting you three characters who are rather unlikable at first and transforming them not into different people, but into characters in a story you want to finish.more
Twentieth century existential angst set in postwar French North Africa. The ending is a protracted male rape fantasy which starts as offensive, but is so misogynistic it actually becomes funny. A first, our heroine, escaping the guilt she feels about her husband's death and a one-nighter with his friend (also a mini-rape; she yearns to do men's will) hitches a ride with an Arab caravan. Right away, she is raped by the two leaders. She puts up a weak resistance, accepts passively and promptly begins to enjoy herself--this is the first rape! Shortly she falls in love with the younger one and passively endures the other. The younger one takes her home, imprisons her in a tiny room and rapes her for weeks and weeks and she " lives" for his "visits." Finally, realizing the other wives are slowly poisoning her, she escapes, only to run to the arms of another strange man, who rapes and robs her and with whom she falls in love. Finally, her weak little brain can't take it and she goes completely insane. The Arab characters seem stereotypical, as do the French colonialists. On the good side, the writing style is fine, and until we get to the rape fantasy, the plot is interesting, and I suppose the book presents some sort of picture of the time and place (never having been there). However, I would only recommend this as a case study: a look into the mind of a man who really believes women enjoy being raped.more
Three young Americans with enough money to do whatever they want but with no ambition to do anything in particular bumble into the unforgiving North African desert, where one of them loses his innocence, another his life, and the third her soul and sanity. The harsh beauty of the desert, the hopeless naïveté of the clueless adventurers, and the symbiotic rhythms of the Arab and black African peoples accustomed to this environment are beautifully evoked (even in this Spanish translation). The mostly strongly felt character is the young woman, Kit (Catherine) Moresby, whose sensual yearnings lead her deeply into sexual bondage and a will to become part of desert life. We also saw the 1990 film by Bernardo Bertolucci (John Malkovich and Debra Winger are wonderful as Port and Kit Moresby), which alters the story by bringing in Bowles himself as "narrator" and, regrettably, dropping several of the novel's most memorable secondary characters, including the two French military officers, the hotel-keeper Abdel Kader, and the humble and generous Jewish shopkeeper Daoud Zozeph. But the Tuareg who takes Kit into his harem is thoroughly convincing, and the camerawork effectively conveys the terror and the beauty of the desert and the cities, saloons, hotels and markets.more
The Sheltering Sky aspires to be a sweeping, elegiac novel in which the protagonists' confrontations with the hostile, foreign elements of both nature and humankind provide a figurative structure from within which the author can make beautiful, momentous and pithy observations on our modern lives.Put it another way: there aren't many funny bits. The Sheltering Sky takes itself very seriously indeed.Alas, Paul Bowles' enterprise is completely undermined by the (actually fairly well observed) characters: the lead roles in this Saharan melodrama are played by a husband and wife who have fallen out of love with each other. If this were all, I think Bowles might have got away with it. But crucially, the couple - Port and Kit - are also two of the most dislikeable lead characters to be found anywhere in contemporary fiction. Port is selfish, unfaithful, rude and arrogant. Kit is hardly better: duplicitous, similarly unfaithful, hysterical, and given to an annoying irrationality which, towards the end of the book veers inexplicably towards sheer lunacy. Another reviewer has described them as "innocents abroad". That may be how they're regarded in the author's homeland; people in other parts of the world would recognise them as something rather different and, I'm bound to say, less appealing: "Americans abroad". Port and Kit have the most irritating, implausible conversations; the sort which could only be invented by an author trying to explore Important Things. Consider the following exchange:"`Why don't you extend your good wishes to all humanity, while you're at it?' she demanded."`Humanity?' cried Port. `What's that? Who is humanity? I'll tell you. Humanity is everyone but one's self. So of what interest can it be to anybody?'"Anyone conducting this conversation in real life is, I respectfully submit, asking to have their lights punched out.It is thus extremely hard to give a damn about either of the characters. And when an author has lost (or in this case, never really gained) his audience's sympathy for his protagonists, then any message that might be embedded in their experiences is likely to remain buried (because the reader can't be bothered to look for it) or worse, to be rejected altogether. Instead, one can take perverse pleasure from their misfortunes (which are many and varied) - but this can hardly have been what Paul Bowles intended.It is hard to understand what Bowles did intend, though: his writing at critical points is oblique enough to be completely meaningless. Again, take an example - a complete paragraph which arrives pretty much out of nowhere:"His cry went on through the final image: the spots of raw bright blood on the earth. Blood on excrement. The supreme moment, high above the desert, when two elements, blood and excrement, long kept apart, merge. A black star appears, a point of darkness in the night sky's clarity. Point of darkness and gateway to repose. Reach out, pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky, take repose."If you know what on Earth that's all about, you've done better than me. And if you care, then this may be the book for you. If not, consider exchanging days of irritation for two short hours of it: rent Bartolucci's film version instead.more
For some reason, I love books about the desert. This landscape is primal and dangerous and unforgiving--and, therefore, intriging. Bowles' book explores all of these elements of the North African desert. In many ways, it is a depressing book: the characters seem empty and soulless as they search for meaning in Africa's harsh, yet exotic landscapes. Each of the three main characters is forced to confront his/her emotional depths as the book moves from the city to the most remote parts of the desert. They don't all survive the journey.more
The Sheltering Sky is the story of three friends who go on an extended period of travelling through French Africa in the post-war period. Port Moresby, his wife Kit Moresby, and their friend Tunner are not particularly likeable characters (Kit and Port are both unfaithful to each other within the first few chapters), but neither are they unlikeable enough to be particularly interesting. They are also prone to periods of intense introspection, and thought patterns extensively explained via metaphor. This is unappealing enough to me already without Bowles' habit of zealously rationing his paragraph breaks to about one per page. In any case, the overall story is one of travel without appropriately assessing the dangers of the region; arrogant Americans blundering off into the desert without a second thought and badly hurting themselves as a result. The final fifty pages of the book were somewhat more interesting than the rest, since they deal with imprisonment, a favoured theme of mine - alas, not interesting enough to salvage the other two hundred pages of meandering philosophical passages.I always feel frustrated whenever I read a classic of literature and fail to enjoy it. Am I somehow missing something? Am I not intelligent enough to appreciate it? Should I skulk off back to my Playstation and Doritos like the wretched product of the public school system that I am?...no. No, it's the literary critics who are wrong.more
In this novel a husband and wife and a sorta friend of theirs are travelling around North Africa. It's the 1940s, so one has to contextualize the sometimes awkward/semi-racist descriptions of the "natives." Or if you aren't interested in giving the characters any leeway, that's okay too, but the book works very well as a portrayal of arrogant, neurotic Americans in a hostile, alien world. A lot of shit goes down. At first you might think that you are just witnessing the deterioration of a marriage or at least the complexities of relationships, but those issues become minor compared to the dangers surrounding the travellers. It's almost as if you imagined the worst things that could happen while in a foreign country and then they all happened. It plays out very much like a nightmare, and makes for a compelling read to witness the downward spirals of all of the main characters.more
From the TIME Archive:All this may be taken straight as simply a lurid, supersexy Sahara adventure story completely outfitted with camel trains, handsome Arabs, French officers and a harem—TIME Magazine, Dec. 5, 1949 Of all the Time Magazine 100 All Time list books that I've read this year, I found this one the most interesting and least annoying. Katherine (Kit) and Porter Moresby originally from New York travel to Africa with friend Tunner, in an attempt to resolve their marital difficulties. As they move further and further towards the Sahara, they seem to forget about the dangers implicit in their trip. When Porter is struck down by typhoid two thirds of the way through, Kit is slowly driven crazy and the last section of the book deals with her descent into madness and debauchery.This was a pretty fascinating story, although the main characters were somewhat one-dimensional and hard to work up a large amount of empathy for the supporting characters were realistic and amusing. Especially the mother/son team that plague the Moresby's by showing up everywhere.more
A classic worth reading - if only for its fine descriptions of life in Africa.more
The scope of Paul Bowles' *The Sheltering Sky* is two-fold: on the outside it is the tale of three young Americans traveling around North Africa after the World War. In a deeper level it is really a terrifying, exhilarating journey into the depth of human existence. Kit and Port Moresby's marriage was jeopardized. They came to the desert to escape from civilization, to escape from one another. The couple had never settled down in any one place, but rather they casually intended to move from one place to another in Africa in order to avoid places that had been touched by wars. The couple was also joined by a mutual friend Tunner and with whom emarked on a journey into the forbidden Sahara. What this book strikes me the most is the way Bowles examines the ways in which Americans apprehend an alien culture (as well as alien land). The very same apprehension at the end in a sense destroyed these Americans. As they emarked on their journey, further and further away from civilization, we can see how the cultural superiority of these fellow Americans dominate their thoughts-how they not trust the locals, the Arabs, the porters of town, the butler at inns. The journey forced these Americans to push the limits of human life. Each one of them was touched by the unspeakableemptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert. I don't want to give away the ending of the tale but this is definitely not a page-turner as you, the reader, will have to emark yourself on this journey and think about the limits of human reason and intelligence, about the powerlessness in controlling our fate. Beautiful prose, challenging reading.more
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Reviews

Unrelenting nihilist perspective. Part of the way through this book, I thought "I should spend my precious moments reading things that appeal to me, instead of forcing myself to finish, no matter what." In the future, I will strive to recall this book and these thoughts and act accordingly...more
Oh I finished this one about three weeks ago but geez where does the time go? Well, I guess I think that the main crux of the book lies within it's overall storytelling and I thought the imagery of North Africa was sometimes striking but Bowles's attempts at character development fell flat with me. Even worse, I hated all of the main characters so when trouble befell them, I couldn't care less. I was hoping they'd all get eaten by a lion halfway through the book and Bowles would find some more decent subjects to write about. Well, that's probably a bit harsh. Suffice it to say if you are just wondering how three Americans would do in North Africa, you might like this book. For me, not so much...more
The characters are extremely unsympathetic, but I suppose that is part of the point. The real star here is Morocco and the desert.more
Port and Kit travel to North Africa , ostensibly to cure their marital malaise, accompanied by their friend Tunner. But the exotic cultures and customs they encounter in the vast, cruel desert are incomprehensible to them and only serve to test the limits of their humanity.Bowles’ book is both beautiful and cruel – interesting and hostile. The landscape and cultures are characters in the tale on their own and provide a fascinating backdrop for an examination of sad, provocative people.Bottom Line:Beautiful and cruel book4 bones !!!!more
Loved the book, loathed the people -- an odd reaction to an odd book. Normally, I have great trouble getting into a novel if I can't feel some sympathy for and interest in at least a few of the characters, but that's not the way "The Sheltering Sky" worked. The story is hypnotic, a journey further and further into the Sahara, and further and further away from the normal markers of identity. The language is very beautiful, painfully precise in its descriptions of people, lyric in discussing scenery, and hallucinatory when we enter into the minds of the characters. Those two things, the story and the language, kept me reading until I had finished the book, in one session. But all the while I wondered why I was reading about these people -- rich Americans drifting aimlessly about, from emptiness to more emptiness (why can't they get jobs, or have children, or do something USEFUL??) Anyway, a powerful book that is lingering in my memory with extraordinary persistence.more
The juxtaposition of existential ennui, adventure, and ill-fated romance are unforgettable. This book made such a profound impression on me back when I read it some years ago, I don't want to re-read it lest I'm left with less impact.more
"...he had only to see a map to begin studying it passionately, and then, often as not, he would begin to plan some new, impossible trip which sometimes eventually became a reality. 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. ...another important difference between tourist and 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." ~Paul Bowles (page 6)My interest in the convergence of cultures and the crossing of lines are generally two-fold. (1) How is identity threatened and reconstructed? (2) How and why are cultural/societal/belief lines so rigidly enforced? and how can they be circumvented without paying "the cost of life?"Paul Bowles opens with his definition of a tourist versus a traveler. Having set the stage with this distinction, the book delves into the disintegration of self which is the risk of the cultural/ideological traveler. Excellent and thought-provoking.From my perspective, being a tourist is not a negative thing. It is much better than those who never leave home. The tourist brings back some perspective of another way, but has no reason to adjust their own since of self. The traveler, on the other hand, becomes more psychologically flexible...finding self in identifications that are individual and impermanent....individual in the sense that they are not a part of a Whole which a community has agreed upon...but are self-constructed from many communities. The traveler always runs the risk of fragmentation and disintegration. I don't think a traveler is capable of being just a tourist.more
The Sheltering Sky is a real bummer to read, one of those "classics" that one can only suffer through. What little there is by way of plot starts at bad and proceeds to much worse. The biographical notes in this edition say that the period when Bowles wrote this coincided with his becoming a heavy user of cannabis derivatives kif and majoun. This could account for the paranoid haze that permeates the story. In any case its unpleasant dissonance makes for a sad waste of a brilliant metaphor, "the sheltering sky".more
BkC8) [THE SHELTERING SKY] by [[Paul Bowles]]: Tedious twaddle.When I'm right, I'm right.The Book Report: Kit and Port Moresby (get the Australia/New Guinea colonial joke, huh? huh? How clever is Paul Bowles, right?) are not gonna make it as a couple. They just aren't. So, in time-honored rich-couple-in-over-relationship fashion, they Travel. They don't take a trip, or a vacation, oh perish forbid, they Travel. North Africa, they think, no one we know will be there so we won't have to confront how little is left of what was a marriage.So, this being midcentury fiction, while they Travel, they pick up a guy named Tunner who is also Traveling with his Mama. (Code of the day for "he's a fag.") I would say "hijinks ensue," but they really, really don't.My Review: Tunner and Kit. Tunner and Port. Port and Kit. Find me some sexual heat in any of these variations. G'wan g'wan double-dog dare ya.Arab as Wily Native. Murrikin as Rich Rube. Okay, been there done that, even in 1949...sixty-three years ago this wasn't an under-used trope, and by now it's a dreary cliche when used without irony or other meta-element to waft away its corpse-like odor.Books told in dialogue. Really now. Robert Pinget did it better.So "tedious twaddle" remains my judgment. Gay rights have swept away the shock, shock! of Port and Tunner's implied affair. Kit's a dreary stereotype of the Bored White Woman Seeking Dusky Lover. Whatever value the book still has, it's in the language, which I myownself found very close to intolerably dull and lifeless.I suppose I have to give this Ambien-between-covers two stars because there will be lynch mobs of admirers outside my door anyway, but if I gave it the 1/2 star I think it actually deserves, there'd be snipers and Inquisitionists too. But god, I feel hypocritical doing it.Run Away! Run Away! Don't even accept a copy as a gift!more
I found this novel underwhelming. The sense of place was wonderful (if a bit romanticized), and in places it read like a sort of travelogue. This was one most interesting parts of it for me. The people seem distant, aloof, and completely cut off from one another. Two of the main characters, Kit and Port, husband and wife, have presumably escaped post-World War II America to explore northern Africa. Tunner, a third wheel, awkwardly tags along, allowing for an additional romantic interest for Kit. The title is highly ironic: Africa has almost nothing to offer these three other than desolation, solitude, and loneliness. The weather is oppressive. It is hardly a wonder why so many people were reminded of Camus' Algeria in their reviews.Much of the novel consists of Kit, Port, and Tunner scurrying from one African city to another, in search of what even they probably do not know. Even though Kit loathes Tunner, they end up taking a train ride together to one of the cities during which they romantically bond (rather unrealistically, considering her contempt for him). In fact, romantic (or at least physical) connections, with the possible exception of the one between Port and Kit, were idealized. For example, early on, Port is led to the tent of a prostitute, Marnhia, whose decoy insists that she is not a prostitute. What seems to be a misunderstanding is really a cultural difference. Much like Nature herself, Marnhia is bleak, alluring, and ultimately incomprehensible.Halfway through the book, Port begins to show some portentous symptoms, including fever and hot and cold spells. Even though he shows no signs of getting any better, Kit has no qualms about leaving him in their hotel room. It will surprise few readers that in this land of exclusion, disconnectedness even from those next to you, and disorientation, Port dies. Just as unbelievable as the trysts between Tunner and Kit and then between Port and Marnhia, as soon as Port dies she leaves the hotel without pausing or grieving. The story of their marriage up to this point had me fairly convinced that they did care for one another, but reading this made me wonder whether Port's love was fully reciprocated.Port Moresby, the name of one of the protagonists, is also the name of Papua New Guinea's capital. I'm not sure whether this could be pure coincidence, but I would be eager to know what anyone else thought of it. Did anyone notice this? It popped right out at me, but I just saw it mentioned in one or two other reviews.Gore Vidal said that Bowles' short stories are "emblematic of the helplessness of an over-civilized sensibility when confronted with an alien culture." Port also makes it clear that he's a traveller instead of a tourist. Those points are central to the book. The first of these will genuinely frustrate those who think that some sort of genuine connection can be made between people of different cultures, and maybe even those of the same culture. As someone who still holds hope, perhaps naively so, for this kind of communication, I found the characters proportionately unconvincing. Personally, I find myself much more oriented toward E. M. Forster's exhortation to "Only connect!" It is what informs all of my reading, my curiosity about the world, and my relationships with others. I realize that my choice is purely an aesthetic one, but Bowles' central message diverged so much from it that I found difficulty making the connection. However, as Forster might be the first to point out, even though I had trouble with its message and characters, this book offered still another opportunity to connect - one which, unfortunately, I'm a worse person for not being able to make.more
It's fascinating how Bowles weaves the three main characters together. He beautifully constructs them so that the reader is able to understand their personal philosophies. Even the minor characters are well done but they are interjected into the plot at random. It works with the plot as a whole, which can be very erratic and unsuspecting at times.more
I enjoyed this book-- both the story and the writing. Bowles is a master of capturing a moment, a feeling, with just the perfect words. Everything he describes comes across as completely unambiguous and familiar. He even made me forget that I hate the desert. The characters are remarkably believable and his portrait of the decaying marriage has so many facets-- each described perfectly from both Kit's and Port's viewpoints. I don't want to spoil the plot, but Book 3 was completely unexpected. I read it in one sitting and it felt like a dream/nightmare. Once I have emerged from the hypnosis of Bowles writing Book 3 will either disgust me or amaze me with its provocative and disturbing insight. I won't know which for a while. I highly recommend this book-- it is not a difficult or long read but high in enjoyment and thought-provoking content. 4 stars (maybe more later)more
On one hand, the language is pure poetry. There's no doubt the book is beautifully written, but it's also very slow going. Many of the themes are just better developed by better writers. Westerners out of their depth in the "uncivilized" colonies is better done by Forster, and the angst and ennui of the leisure class is better done by Fitzgerald. Still, one could do considerably worse than to be compared in any way to Forster and Fitzgerald.more
For some reason, I love books about the desert. This landscape is primal and dangerous and unforgiving--and, therefore, intriging. Bowles' book explores all of these elements of the North African desert. In many ways, it is a depressing book: the characters seem empty and soulless as they search for meaning in Africa's harsh, yet exotic landscapes. Each of the three main characters is forced to confront his/her emotional depths as the book moves from the city to the most remote parts of the desert. They don't all survive the journey.more
The Sheltering Sky is so many things and yet nearly nothing...much like its Saharan setting. So where the Sahara can appear to be a vast and endless nothing of sand, closer examination reveals all sorts of life and stories. And so Paul Bowles tells the story of Port and Kit Moresby as they travel with Tunner deep into the African desert. And yet, this is no simple travelogue novel. Everything has a surface story and then reveals itself later to have far-reaching consequence. As a minor character points out later in the story, The desert's a big place, but nothing really ever gets lost there...Things turn up sometimes months later. There is little that goes on in this novel that does not have consequence in some manner later. For arrogant travelers who have not had a genuine human encounter in years, this is a double-edged sword. Bowle's depictions of the Sahara are beautiful, even as you see the damage that can be inflicted to the physically and spiritually unprepared. But his greater talent seems to be in presenting you three characters who are rather unlikable at first and transforming them not into different people, but into characters in a story you want to finish.more
Twentieth century existential angst set in postwar French North Africa. The ending is a protracted male rape fantasy which starts as offensive, but is so misogynistic it actually becomes funny. A first, our heroine, escaping the guilt she feels about her husband's death and a one-nighter with his friend (also a mini-rape; she yearns to do men's will) hitches a ride with an Arab caravan. Right away, she is raped by the two leaders. She puts up a weak resistance, accepts passively and promptly begins to enjoy herself--this is the first rape! Shortly she falls in love with the younger one and passively endures the other. The younger one takes her home, imprisons her in a tiny room and rapes her for weeks and weeks and she " lives" for his "visits." Finally, realizing the other wives are slowly poisoning her, she escapes, only to run to the arms of another strange man, who rapes and robs her and with whom she falls in love. Finally, her weak little brain can't take it and she goes completely insane. The Arab characters seem stereotypical, as do the French colonialists. On the good side, the writing style is fine, and until we get to the rape fantasy, the plot is interesting, and I suppose the book presents some sort of picture of the time and place (never having been there). However, I would only recommend this as a case study: a look into the mind of a man who really believes women enjoy being raped.more
Three young Americans with enough money to do whatever they want but with no ambition to do anything in particular bumble into the unforgiving North African desert, where one of them loses his innocence, another his life, and the third her soul and sanity. The harsh beauty of the desert, the hopeless naïveté of the clueless adventurers, and the symbiotic rhythms of the Arab and black African peoples accustomed to this environment are beautifully evoked (even in this Spanish translation). The mostly strongly felt character is the young woman, Kit (Catherine) Moresby, whose sensual yearnings lead her deeply into sexual bondage and a will to become part of desert life. We also saw the 1990 film by Bernardo Bertolucci (John Malkovich and Debra Winger are wonderful as Port and Kit Moresby), which alters the story by bringing in Bowles himself as "narrator" and, regrettably, dropping several of the novel's most memorable secondary characters, including the two French military officers, the hotel-keeper Abdel Kader, and the humble and generous Jewish shopkeeper Daoud Zozeph. But the Tuareg who takes Kit into his harem is thoroughly convincing, and the camerawork effectively conveys the terror and the beauty of the desert and the cities, saloons, hotels and markets.more
The Sheltering Sky aspires to be a sweeping, elegiac novel in which the protagonists' confrontations with the hostile, foreign elements of both nature and humankind provide a figurative structure from within which the author can make beautiful, momentous and pithy observations on our modern lives.Put it another way: there aren't many funny bits. The Sheltering Sky takes itself very seriously indeed.Alas, Paul Bowles' enterprise is completely undermined by the (actually fairly well observed) characters: the lead roles in this Saharan melodrama are played by a husband and wife who have fallen out of love with each other. If this were all, I think Bowles might have got away with it. But crucially, the couple - Port and Kit - are also two of the most dislikeable lead characters to be found anywhere in contemporary fiction. Port is selfish, unfaithful, rude and arrogant. Kit is hardly better: duplicitous, similarly unfaithful, hysterical, and given to an annoying irrationality which, towards the end of the book veers inexplicably towards sheer lunacy. Another reviewer has described them as "innocents abroad". That may be how they're regarded in the author's homeland; people in other parts of the world would recognise them as something rather different and, I'm bound to say, less appealing: "Americans abroad". Port and Kit have the most irritating, implausible conversations; the sort which could only be invented by an author trying to explore Important Things. Consider the following exchange:"`Why don't you extend your good wishes to all humanity, while you're at it?' she demanded."`Humanity?' cried Port. `What's that? Who is humanity? I'll tell you. Humanity is everyone but one's self. So of what interest can it be to anybody?'"Anyone conducting this conversation in real life is, I respectfully submit, asking to have their lights punched out.It is thus extremely hard to give a damn about either of the characters. And when an author has lost (or in this case, never really gained) his audience's sympathy for his protagonists, then any message that might be embedded in their experiences is likely to remain buried (because the reader can't be bothered to look for it) or worse, to be rejected altogether. Instead, one can take perverse pleasure from their misfortunes (which are many and varied) - but this can hardly have been what Paul Bowles intended.It is hard to understand what Bowles did intend, though: his writing at critical points is oblique enough to be completely meaningless. Again, take an example - a complete paragraph which arrives pretty much out of nowhere:"His cry went on through the final image: the spots of raw bright blood on the earth. Blood on excrement. The supreme moment, high above the desert, when two elements, blood and excrement, long kept apart, merge. A black star appears, a point of darkness in the night sky's clarity. Point of darkness and gateway to repose. Reach out, pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky, take repose."If you know what on Earth that's all about, you've done better than me. And if you care, then this may be the book for you. If not, consider exchanging days of irritation for two short hours of it: rent Bartolucci's film version instead.more
For some reason, I love books about the desert. This landscape is primal and dangerous and unforgiving--and, therefore, intriging. Bowles' book explores all of these elements of the North African desert. In many ways, it is a depressing book: the characters seem empty and soulless as they search for meaning in Africa's harsh, yet exotic landscapes. Each of the three main characters is forced to confront his/her emotional depths as the book moves from the city to the most remote parts of the desert. They don't all survive the journey.more
The Sheltering Sky is the story of three friends who go on an extended period of travelling through French Africa in the post-war period. Port Moresby, his wife Kit Moresby, and their friend Tunner are not particularly likeable characters (Kit and Port are both unfaithful to each other within the first few chapters), but neither are they unlikeable enough to be particularly interesting. They are also prone to periods of intense introspection, and thought patterns extensively explained via metaphor. This is unappealing enough to me already without Bowles' habit of zealously rationing his paragraph breaks to about one per page. In any case, the overall story is one of travel without appropriately assessing the dangers of the region; arrogant Americans blundering off into the desert without a second thought and badly hurting themselves as a result. The final fifty pages of the book were somewhat more interesting than the rest, since they deal with imprisonment, a favoured theme of mine - alas, not interesting enough to salvage the other two hundred pages of meandering philosophical passages.I always feel frustrated whenever I read a classic of literature and fail to enjoy it. Am I somehow missing something? Am I not intelligent enough to appreciate it? Should I skulk off back to my Playstation and Doritos like the wretched product of the public school system that I am?...no. No, it's the literary critics who are wrong.more
In this novel a husband and wife and a sorta friend of theirs are travelling around North Africa. It's the 1940s, so one has to contextualize the sometimes awkward/semi-racist descriptions of the "natives." Or if you aren't interested in giving the characters any leeway, that's okay too, but the book works very well as a portrayal of arrogant, neurotic Americans in a hostile, alien world. A lot of shit goes down. At first you might think that you are just witnessing the deterioration of a marriage or at least the complexities of relationships, but those issues become minor compared to the dangers surrounding the travellers. It's almost as if you imagined the worst things that could happen while in a foreign country and then they all happened. It plays out very much like a nightmare, and makes for a compelling read to witness the downward spirals of all of the main characters.more
From the TIME Archive:All this may be taken straight as simply a lurid, supersexy Sahara adventure story completely outfitted with camel trains, handsome Arabs, French officers and a harem—TIME Magazine, Dec. 5, 1949 Of all the Time Magazine 100 All Time list books that I've read this year, I found this one the most interesting and least annoying. Katherine (Kit) and Porter Moresby originally from New York travel to Africa with friend Tunner, in an attempt to resolve their marital difficulties. As they move further and further towards the Sahara, they seem to forget about the dangers implicit in their trip. When Porter is struck down by typhoid two thirds of the way through, Kit is slowly driven crazy and the last section of the book deals with her descent into madness and debauchery.This was a pretty fascinating story, although the main characters were somewhat one-dimensional and hard to work up a large amount of empathy for the supporting characters were realistic and amusing. Especially the mother/son team that plague the Moresby's by showing up everywhere.more
A classic worth reading - if only for its fine descriptions of life in Africa.more
The scope of Paul Bowles' *The Sheltering Sky* is two-fold: on the outside it is the tale of three young Americans traveling around North Africa after the World War. In a deeper level it is really a terrifying, exhilarating journey into the depth of human existence. Kit and Port Moresby's marriage was jeopardized. They came to the desert to escape from civilization, to escape from one another. The couple had never settled down in any one place, but rather they casually intended to move from one place to another in Africa in order to avoid places that had been touched by wars. The couple was also joined by a mutual friend Tunner and with whom emarked on a journey into the forbidden Sahara. What this book strikes me the most is the way Bowles examines the ways in which Americans apprehend an alien culture (as well as alien land). The very same apprehension at the end in a sense destroyed these Americans. As they emarked on their journey, further and further away from civilization, we can see how the cultural superiority of these fellow Americans dominate their thoughts-how they not trust the locals, the Arabs, the porters of town, the butler at inns. The journey forced these Americans to push the limits of human life. Each one of them was touched by the unspeakableemptiness and impassive cruelty of the desert. I don't want to give away the ending of the tale but this is definitely not a page-turner as you, the reader, will have to emark yourself on this journey and think about the limits of human reason and intelligence, about the powerlessness in controlling our fate. Beautiful prose, challenging reading.more
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