Jennifer Connelly's performance of this book was flawless. Her interpretation of all the characters was woven so beautifully into the prose that I believed every moment, every word she uttered. In addition, her spare performance was a perfect compliment to the desolation of the North African desert.
This book belongs on the same shelf as THE STRANGER, which also focuses on themes of colonialism, French and Algerian culture clashes, and existentialism. TIME Magazine named THE SHELTERING SKY as among the best English-language novels penned between 1923 to 2005, which puts it in the same cateogry as works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and Hemingway.
For the traveler, you can also squeeze this book alongside such travel-writing greats as Tony Horwitz, Bill Bryson, and Bruce Chatwin.
I don't think I had a favorite, but in a way, I think that's a good thing, because it means that Ms. Connelly's performance blended in and enhanced the text, rather than competed against it. I love it when I get so lost in a narration that I almost become unaware I'm listening to a book.
I was impressed--and relieved--that her French and Arab accents were top-notch. Readers trying--and failing--to capture an accent can make or break a book for me.
I began and finished this book in the five days following the bombings at this year's Boston Marathon. So I was very attuned to the idea of Americans traveling through Arab countries, the arrogance of defining oneself as a "traveler" rather than a tourist, and my own love of exploring new cultures and trying to understand how this crazy world works.
The doomed Porter Moresby observes: "Do not come here. Get rid of your delusional hopes of absorbing the culture of this place, of fitting in, of comprehending the "native" mind. It will never happen. For one thing, you will never understand them; for another, they don't care to understand you."
That last line has--sadly--seered itself into my mind.
For lovers of literature, I agree with TIME that this is an important book, beautifully written with important themes.
For Americans, it is a critical (by that, I mean "important") commentary on culture clash. Bowles portrays Americans AND Arabs in a fair manner, highlighting the best and the worst in both.
I will say that this is a serious work, not for the faint of heart. In particular, the second half of the book is depressing. And also beautiful. But it reminded me a little of sitting through the film version of LES MISERABLES. The despair is pretty relentless.
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