The sheltering sky

by Paul Bowles

Paperback, 1977




Hopewell, NJ : Ecco Press, c1977.


A beautiful 65th anniversary paperback edition of the landmark literary work 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 desert.

Media reviews

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
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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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User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member xine2009
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member annbury
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member JollyContrarian
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member tootstorm
Three American travelers, wealthy beyond description, drift into the Saharan desert, suffering constant discomfort, loneliness, illness. Their station as travelers is key: They are not the foul-brained tourist gawkers they miserably judge, gathering immediate snapshots to largely leave behind, but
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Travelers with a T, ingrained in the cultures they move between, accepting the differences or rejecting them: They at least pretend to understand them.

Travelers Kit, Port and Tunner live this philosophical post-war outlook from bedrooms and buses, boxcars and hashish-hazed cafes, the culture on the outskirts only there to suffer the Americans’ wealthy dissatisfaction. Rejecting, then rejecting, they move further inland, further into a bored American’s Heart of Darkness, attitude and identity similarly removing themselves from the malaise’d bodies with every mile, every dune crossed into the oppression of that finalizing sheltering sky.

An issue taken—these American Travelers are so flatly self-centered and unlikeable. Never are we meant to like them, or the many characters—namely the Lyles (byech!), so far absorbed by the Sahara they no longer witness their identities past and current as viable—interacting with them, there to receive readers’ smiles, but the juxtaposition of bloated and bloating selfishness and ignorance by these enlightened Travelers is too overwhelming it inches miles past the point of believability; the result dissonantly ahead of its time—the marriage of wealth and aimlessless so common and approachable since the ‘80s—and a simple revival of his ‘20s inspirations. Yet, despite this, their interactions, their stories: They’re absorbing beneath Bowles’ slick, addictive prose; his crafting of the Saharan setting one of the novel’s greatest strengths beginning to end.


I’m with many readers who feel the book’s final act is bizarrely out of place, some good ideas present in Kit’s breakdown and loss of identity to the foreign desert, but the execution far from ideal in the shadow of the alienating but constant travel and Port’s painful, powerful absorption into the sheltering sky (”There are so many things I want to say. I don’t know what they are. I’ve forgotten them all.” She patted his hand lightly. “It’s always that way.”). It‘s jarring because it no longer feels like it’s the character—i.e., Kit—casting judgment on the Saharan culture, but Bowles himself, his portrayal of Kit’s captivity and submission to the Soudanese Islamic culture downright uncomfortable to read and end an otherwise great and enjoyable story with. There’s just too much –ish holding back the finale.

Like with the characters, I feel a dissonance over the place of this book in literary canon. I enjoyed it and don’t regret reading it one whit, but by this point it’s been done again and again, often better, by other writers before and after Bowles, and thematically it’s a book that’ll continue being covered as long as the culture that bore it evolves in this confusing direction. It doubtless won’t be forgotten entirely, but its place and importance is continually being supplanted by other, always contemporary novels. Thank you, Larry McCaffery, but I don’t think I’d call this required reading.

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LibraryThing member kant1066
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
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
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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).
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LibraryThing member maritimer
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
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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".
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LibraryThing member Schmerguls
When I started reading thison Dec 4, 1951, I said: "This is a new novel published by New Directions. I vaguely remember reading an account of some writing by Paul Bowles that interested me muchly but I don't know if this is the book discussed. At all events, what with having read A Long Day's Dying
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and now this book I may be reading some rather ephemeral stuff and adding nothing to my sum total of reading. However one must keep up to date with the more significant stuff as well as seek to read the immortal old stuff. I'd like to find some new obscure writer I really like--like Truman Capote--if I find another I like as well as I like him, I'd feel rewarded. Buechner I did not like, despite some interest in phases of him. There is a lot of stuff in the library here (I was at the the naval base at Norfolk) I want to read.." On the day I finished the book I said: "'Twas New Directiony okay, powerful in a shocking sort of way, ending in a blaze of push. Much of the early part, with Kit and Port Moresby traveling in north Africa was good writing but the locale combined with the basic inaction to endullenize it for me. Everything was hot, dusty and dirty and jolting, and so I couldn't understnd how the characters were so active and moving. It didn't make sense to me. The closing parts, after Port's death, I did not find necessary to find understandaable and so i followed the story of Kit's running away with interest and admiration for the power of the account."
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Well, I'm not quite sure what to say about this one. Bowles certainly had an eye for detail and a knack for atmospheric writing: he puts the reader right in the center of North Africa, from the smoke-filled cafes to the dry stretches of the Sahara to the gritty streets. New Yorkers Port and Kit
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Moresby (joined at times by another American, Tunner) travel through various cities and landscapes of North Africa in 1949, trying, in part, to sort out their troubled marriage. But infidelity and/or suspicion get the better of both of them, and the two travel on separate paths, at least until a crisis briefly reunites them.

I was quite enjoying the novel, depsite its darkness and deeply nihilistic theme, when WHAM! All of a sudden I found myself in the middle of 'The Sheik' with Rudolph Valentino. I sat scratching my head for awhile, wondering what the heck just happened and how the novel had taken this weird turn. I still don't get it. At that point, I plodded through to the end, greatly disappointed (when I wasn't shaking my head or snorting).

I can't recommend this one. So much emotional investment building up to an unbelievable ending that was totally out of sync with the rest of the novel.

If I read anything else by Bowles, it will be because of his style--not his nearly-nonexistent agility with plot or character.
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LibraryThing member TheBentley
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member alexandriaginni
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...
LibraryThing member edgeworth
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
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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, it's the literary critics who are wrong.
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LibraryThing member pipster
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member gefox
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member stephmo
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member otterley
Rich and purposeless American drifters, Kit and Port Moresby and their occasional companion Tunner are faceless protagonists in a book that erodes their lives with the Sahara desert they idly wander into. Bowles juxtaposes the civilisation they bring with them (lipsticks, dancing shoes, gowns,
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money that eventually becomes useless) with the unchanging and impenetrable world of the Sahara. Disengaged French colonial officials, and the appalling English mother and son they meet on the way, seem to cope by skating on the top of this dangerous world, untouched by it. The tropes of Port's stolen passport , Kit's increasingly useless valise and Tunner's telegrams tell the stories of identity, loss and crossed wires.

I found Kit and Port strangely impenetrable - and found Kit's near ending in sexual thrall to a Bedouin difficult to stomach in many ways - but the book was in the main compelling.
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LibraryThing member lgaikwad
"...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.
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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.
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LibraryThing member thelittlereader
well, first things first… this book took me a long while to read, as in two full months, which is a really long time for me. it’s not that it wasn’t good, but i wasn’t compelled to pick it up every day to see what happened next and the characters weren’t magnetic, or even all that likable
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for that matter. but, the language was so wonderful and the descriptive passages about the setting were so beautifully imagined that it was easy to overlook the parts that weren’t as amazing. all in all, i liked The Sheltering Sky, but it is definitely a book that i would only recommend to a small handful of people.

the story centers on three travelers, husband and wife duo Port and Kit, and their hapless friend Tunner, in the African Sahara desert. though never explicitly stated, they come from a life of advantage and are careless with their money, which gives the impression that they are almost careless with their lives. they travel without an agenda and are merely observers of the culture, life and scenery as the various cities (and their inhabitants) present themselves. there is no real plot per se, which makes for slow reading, but there are underlying threads related to Port and Kit’s inability to relate to one another and their faltering loyalty and friendship with Tunner.

"The wind at the window celebrated her dark sensation of having attained a new depth of solitude."

the characterization really was excellent – each of the three was flawed and distinctively both arrogant and innocent. though i don’t particularly like any of them, i could see pieces of each that were so uniquely genuine and honest that it was very easy to relate and find meaningful moments. i found the inner dialogues of Port and Kit to be the most fascinating, with some very deep personal moments of self doubt and loathing and triumphant self discovery.

in addition to the wonderful characterization, the descriptions of the desert were phenomenal and i can understand how many readers find the desert to almost be a character in and of itself. it lived and breathed with a life that i wouldn’t have expected from something so barren and it alone made the reading worthwhile.

"Even as she stood in the window she was struck with the silence of the place. She could have thought there was not a living being within a thousand miles. The famous silence of the Sahara."

where the book fell flat for me was mostly in the loose endings. the finale was a total curveball and not sure i followed the intention. it seemed almost tacked on and i didn’t find any resolution in the personal conflicts that the three characters had presented.

altogether, this was an enjoyable read with beautiful imagery and heartfelt characterization and i would recommend this book for those interested in the language and shape that forms the Sahara. however, if long winded passages and aimless plot lines irk you, don’t bother because this will bore you to tears.
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LibraryThing member technodiabla
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
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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)
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LibraryThing member hbergander
After having published his first novel, Bowles has been for many Americans, travelling to Tanger from the fifties up to the eighties, the first address.
LibraryThing member unknown_zoso05
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,
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which can be very erratic and unsuspecting at times.
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LibraryThing member bikiechic
Another wow! I really must read this book again to fully grasp its profound concepts. A dense read, full of amazing statements which required me to re-read sections in order to completely immerse myself into each character's state of mind. Will definitely be purchasing my own copy to re-visit in
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the future.
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LibraryThing member sarradee
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
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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.
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