The Sheltering Sky is a landmark of 20th-century literature, a novel of existential despair that examines the limits of humanity when it touches the unfathomable emptiness of the desert. Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream) gives masterful voice to this American classic.
This fascinating story follows three American travelers, a married couple and their friend, as they find themselves adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II. Along the walkabout, their ignorance of the dangers that surround them peels back the veneer of their lives. The author’s life as an expatriate in the North African nation of Morocco informed his rendering of the desert, which itself is a cruel, unforgiving character in the novel.
“Paul Bowles’ writing is so extraordinary, so special,” Ms. Connelly said. “The landscapes are magical, the characters are questioning so much – it’s haunting in a very beautiful way.”
The Sheltering Sky is part of Audible’s A-List Collection, featuring the world’s most celebrated actors narrating distinguished works of literature that each star helped select. For more great books performed by Hollywood’s finest, click here.
©1949 Paul Bowles (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Because this is one of the novels released in Audible's *A-List Collection*, I'll begin with the perfect match-up of this novel to narrator, Jennifer Connelly. Flaw Less. With an hypnotic voice, Miss Connelly brings the voice of author Bowles alive. If you are familiar with the ex-pat author and composer, you might even hear his attitude in Connelly's reading. I've listened only to 3 books from the A-List Collection, but all have been solid pairings of novel and narrator. Connelly was sublime.
I was simply - seduced, from the introductory beat of exotic tribal drums. As the novel progressed, I did not like these nihilistic snoots, Kit and Port, so self-absorbed that they don't wait for night to fall--rather they wait for the *night to come to them*, but I was mesmerized by them. Tired of Paris, Rome, wishing to escape anywhere touched by the war (WWII), Kit and Port stuff their trunks and cross the Atlantic to the N. African desert. They sit on the terrace of a desert cafe where the "air has no movement", surrounded by Arabs in fezes in shades of red, they in their European clothes, "in the manner of people who had all the time in the world for everything." Kit finds a piece of rabbit fur in her rabbit soup after swallowing a spoonful, after devouring a bowl of noodles Port notices the floating bodies of weevils, they suffer illness (and worse)...I had no sympathy for these inhumane people, but I was fascinated -- to quote Bowles quoting Kafka..."From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back; that is the point that must be reached."
Kit and Port Moresby (MOREsby surely couldn't be coincidental), are not the antagonists of this story -- it is the Sahara, and the solitude that ignores station, caste, or status . As Bowles goes on to drive these two further into the desert the story becomes bizarre, to say the least, but these mysteries should remain until you discover them for yourself. A bit similar to Hemmingway's band of ex-pats in Paris from The Sun Also Rises; and there is no escaping the obvious...this is Existentialism, very reminiscent of Camus' The Stranger. A particular passage haunts me: an Arab tells the tale of 3 sisters and their quest to have tea in the Sahara on the highest dune (Sting wrote a song about the tale "Tea in the Sahara"), it was strangely exquisite and visual.
The aberrations, the atrocities, the perversions, are handled with a genius touch. No violence is described, even in the most brutal situations, but you know what went down and can feel the horror of the situations because of Bowles ability to communicate without spelling out the details. It was in these moments that I felt the most fascinated and connected to this haunting book. (It struck me as I began listening the second time around that Bowles has created a novel that has been intelligently streamlined, to where everything, every detail and every word, is a necessary part of a perfect whole.) I disliked it until I loved it. Sheltering Sky will not have wide appeal, I wouldn't suggest it to my book club without expecting to lose my turn at choosing, but for me personally, I'm obsessed. Recommending this book reminds me of recommending a Rothko exhibit...you either love it and appreciate the talent that can capture the subtleties of blue fading into black...or you hate it and think you're kid could do that. This novel goes on my favorite list - the short one, and I'm already listening again.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
Paul Bowles masterpiece reminds me of some alternate, trippy, version of Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, but instead we see the other side of the Mediterranean. Tangier and the deserts of North Africa take the place of the South of France. A different love triangle exposes different forms of loneliness, madness, love, and existential expats.
The thing I love about Bowles is he brings a composer's mind to writing. His novel isn't propelled forward by a strong plot (although it has plot) or attractive characters (none of the characters are very attractive), but the music of his language itself pushes and pulls, tugs and compels the reader page after page. It felt very much like I was floating limp and languid in Bowles prose as his hypnotic sentences washed over me and drifted me slowly toward the inevitable end.
Connelly captures the mood, the magic, the sadness and the tension of the book perfectly.
Most days, I don't feel a real need to read/listen to a book twice. But I might need to make an exception for 'The Sheltering Sky'.
Yes, I do strongly recommend this novel to everyone. This is one of the best novels that I have ever read and Jennifer Connelly's reading is the single best reading of a novel that I have ever heard.
This is the story of an American couple, Port and Kit, travelling through Morocco in the late 1940's. Although they deeply love one another, they have grown apart and traveling from one small town in the Sahara to another only brings their despair and alienation into sharper relief. The dialog has the ring of authenticity, as do the characters' inner monologues. Bowles was a great storyteller and his descriptions of the desert are mesmerizing.
One of the most powerful scenes in the novel occurs in a small hospital where Port lies, suffering from typhus. Despite his own deep sense of alienation from the world, one thing is clear to him: his love for Kit. But by then, he's too weak from the disease to get the words out and tell her everything that's on his mind.
I read this novel years ago and I loved it, but Jennifer Connelly's reading of it has led me to appreciate it even more. I almost hesitate to call it a 'reading'. It's better described as a performance and a great one at that. Her decison to give each character in the novel his or her own distinctive voice was a bold one and it paid off. Her readings of the narrative passages are just as hypnotic and brilliant as Bowles' writing itself.
Kit's mental breakdown in the desert after she loses Port is especially moving. There's no one to help her.
Listening to this reading has inspired me to read Bowles' other novels and to re-watch some of Ms. Connelly's excellent acting performances in films.
Connelly's mastery of all the accents.
The period it took place in
Her voice was clear, accents superb and her delivery was spot on
Kit because I related to that one the best
This is an intriguing story of two Americans who go to north Africa for adventure and lose everything. It is well narrated and each time I resumed listening, I was retransported into the strangeness of a foreign culture.
An academic who listens to novels on runs and commutes to campus.
I am naturally skeptical of existential novels and meditations, as the texts can sometimes devolve into a depressing mix of self-loathing and pity. While Sheltering Sky does not devolve that far, the issue is that you have a set of characters who are seemingly unaware of how their actions have consequences. Too often, I was left to wonder why these characters would be so unwilling to look at their actions in a critical fashion, which caused me not to feel any sympathy for the relatively disturbing fates handed out in this novel. The one redeeming quality of this production was the narration of Jennifer Connelly.
Jennifer Connelly's performance is perfect. Port, Kit and Tunner can be quite unsympathetic characters at times but the story is a compelling portrait of the disconnection a generation felt after World War II.
One master-passion in the br east, like Aaron's serpent, swallows all the rest. A. Pope
“How fragile we are under the sheltering sky. Behind the sheltering sky is a vast dark universe, and we're just so small.”
As much as I disliked the existentialism of Camus' traveling "Stranger" in Algeria, I could not help becoming entranced by Paul Bowles' THE SHELTERING SKY, a gorgeous, poetic novel following a married couple and a male friend ("travelers," they say, not tourists) as they travel aimlessly through the desolation and harshness of the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II.
An allegory within the novel, THE SHELTERING SKY, of the three sisters who waited for the prince to join them for tea in the Sahara desert, but the prince never arrived, has inspired numerous songs, including "Tea in the Sahara" by The Police.
My sisters and I
Have this wish before we die.
And it may sound strange
As if our minds are deranged.
Please don't ask us why
Beneath the sheltering sky
We have this strange obsession
You have the means in your possession.
We want our tea in the Sahara with you.
[Gordon "Sting" Sumner, "Tea in the Sahara"]
As this story concluded in the novel, “Many days later another caravan was passing and a man saw something on top of the highest dune there. And when they went up to see, they found Outka, Mimouna and Aicha; they were still there, lying the same way as when they had gone to sleep. And all three of the glasses,' he held up his own little tea glass, 'were full of sand. That was how they had their tea in the Sahara.”
In short, this fascinating novel is one that, more than any other I've read, transports the reader by the most poetic of prose to the point of utter alienation.
Jennifer Connelly's soothing voice and acting talents make the novel all the more mesmerizing.
prefers the darker side of fiction
really wanted to like this story, but it simply didn't work for me. i love a well-written tale of despair and this certainly fits the description, but i found myself waiting for it to end. if you like your fiction dark (I do) and value writing over story (I don't), this might work out better for you.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
There is an undeniable power here. I can't say that I liked the characters, but they were somehow compelling. I can't say that I understand the choices the characters made, but they were somehow believable. Bowles has somehow tapped in to the mid-century malaise that followed World War II, and created a novel that is at once evocative and enigmatic. We never learn enough about Port and Kit to know why they came to Africa, or why they brought Tunner along. They are intent on following their own plans despite having no actual purpose. They are oblivious to the consequences of their choices, and seemingly oblivious to the possibility that their lives are also subject to other people's agendas. Scattered throughout are some truly stunning observations by Bowles about life. I cannot help but reflect on this novel months after hearing it; still trying to make sense of it; still admiring and confused.
As much as I am a fan of Jennifer Connelly, I have mixed feelings about her as a reader. On the plus side, she is about the right age for Port and Kit, and thereby makes it easier to access those characters. On the other hand, she comes across as rather flat, lacking the varied modulations of the truly accomplished audio book readers.
A very moving story. It's hard to break listening.
Excellent performance by Jennifer Connely.
Her voice is perfect. Please, more of her.
"great job by narrator"
this was a very different novel. the narrator did a fine job. I loved it.
how scary is that Sahara? Quite the page turner.
"meandering tale of self-indulgence which goes sour"
Journey to real wilderness reveals the wilderness within
Probably shortened the scenes towards the end with Arabian Nights like characters
Realisation that death reveals lack of substance to one's life
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