are writers who have staked out a particular territory and so
convincingly put their stamp on it that the place is forever
associated with them; images they have evoked in novels jostling
with our own impressions, coloring them. One cannot think of
Morocco without thinking of the stories and novels of American
writer Paul Bowles who left New York as a young man and eventually
made Tangier his home. The Sahara, blues and ochres, blue of
sky, of water whose absence is felt more strongly than a presence,
changing shades and beautiful shapes of dunes . . . dangerous, ensorcelling.
Bowles's Morocco, a world of hennaed women, Arab men swathed in
white robes, and exotic Berber tribes on camelback, and always, a
frisson of danger lurking beneath the surface. An exoticism
that lured, but could also betray. This year marks the 60th
anniversary of the publication of Bowles's first and most eloquent
and a perfect opportunity to pick up and re-read this modern
classic or perhaps discover it for the first time.
Sheltering Sky follows three American travelers who venture
into an unknown Moroccan adventure and form a volatile triangle
with love, hatred, anger, and a good deal of self-questioning
thrown into the mix. Alienation in this strange world of
shifting sands and allegiances, of sweet tea and bitter
friendships that casts a spell on them as they negotiate the
vicissitudes of their new life -- a world of extremes, of
antiquated traditions. Bowles's straightforward and elegant
prose ripples with an undercurrent of danger and cruelty that both
enchants and repulses. Atmospheric, nature in all its beauty
and violence, the sheltering sky protects "the person beneath
from the horror that lies above."
there is music in his writing, then that is not surprising.
Bowles, was a musician as well -- he initially went to Europe to
study music with Aaron Copland in the 1920s. Later, he
traveled across Morocco recording traditional
including Arabic, Berber, Jewish, Islamic, and secular
Sheltering Sky was made into an epic, picturesque film
Bernardo Bertolucci in 1990 (with Debra Winger and John Malkovich,
and haunting score by Ryuichi Sakamoto).
his 1949 New York Times review, Tennessee
Williams said : "The surface is enthralling as narrative….
But above that surface is the aura that I spoke of, intangible and
powerful, bringing to mind one of those clouds that you have seen
in summer, close to the horizon and dark in color and now and then
silently pulsing with interior flashes of fire.…the end of this
novel is as wildly beautiful and terrifying as the whole panorama
that its protagonists have crossed."
Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
Sheltering Sky, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, with Debra Wnger,