An entrancing tale of “awayness” – the slow shedding of all you know, and all you understand until life itself becomes a shimmering, dreamlike haze. That’s the core narrative of Paul Bowles’ achingly beautiful novel “The Sheltering Sky”. And yet, on some level, it’s not about that at all. Every time I read this introspective work I feel its real meaning is somehow hidden in the periphery of its character’s actions. That its truths are felt and implied, but never directly witnessed. It has that sort of magic. The book always leaves me longing to experience in real life something akin to the forlorn, otherworldly states induced by it pages.
I’m not alone in citing this book as an inspiration. The Police’s song “Tea in the Sahara” borrows its title and story line from the first chapter of the book. There was also a movie made of the book starring Debra Winger and John Malkovich (and it even a cameo appearance by the author himself). The film wasn’t bad but it was too blunt a work to truly delve into the book’s core. It’s best watched long after you’ve read and digested the book.
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The Sheltering Sky Movie – iTunes
Two Riveting Quotations From The Sheltering Sky
“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. 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.”
“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”