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.
Say something about yourself!
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.
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
I would listen to this story again because each character
was so complex and they came together and a very interesting time
and place. I did listen to part of it again just to be sure that I understood the ending.
The characters inner dialogue verses how they related to one and other.
Her voice was perfect for the female character. I like the way she reacted to her husband
in the story.
The female character, she was the most interesting.
I liked the ending it was quite a surprise.
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.
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.
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.
Say something about yourself!
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.
Book are life enriching
I consider Jennifer Connelly narration of this book to be the highest honour one could give to the genius of writer Paul Bowles
Both of the main characters of the book were well so well portrayed each were equally believable
I would read anything Jennifer Connelly narrates she is one of the finest female narraters I have listened to
I would rather go to on a trip to the desert [than out to dinner] with either of the main characters
Jennifer Connellys narration of this book was like pouring honey over the sophisticated prose of Paul Bowles to make the passages sound as smooth as silk
What exactly is the author trying to say with this book? Is he selling us existentialism through this novel? Perhaps. What is he saying about the central couple’s relationship, both with each and with their friends? This too is unclear. The two main protagonists are trying to reach out to each other, but do they succeed? This circles back to the author’s philosophical message. Perhaps it is enough that the book draws our attention to these questions. The answers are not clear.
What does the author want to say with the title? This too is unclear, but worth discussion.
The first half of the book is very different from the second half. I do not feel the two hold together. The first half focuses on philosophy. The first half has many parallels with Camus’ “The Stranger”. Both are set in Africa, one in Morocco and the other in Algeria. There is a streetcar in both. In neither is it the individuals that control their lives, but rather the other way around. Life just happens and you must submit. The second half has a completely different style of writing. You switch from philosophical analysis to a plot oriented, adventure story reminiscent of “One Thousand and One Nights”. Depending on your preferences you will like one or the other…..but not both.
The audiobook narration by Jennifer Connelly is very well done. She distinguishes between English and American characters. They do make you smile…. Maybe this is because I now live in Europe? French, English and Arabic languages are used; this is done adroitly. The languages are not translated. Although I don’t see this as a problem, I was happy that I easily understood the French. The slang chosen felt genuine; that is exactly how people would express themselves.
A central theme of the book is the difference between travelers and tourists. In fact this is why I chose the book, having myself lived in different countries. The main protagonists see themselves as travelers, but I felt they acted often as tourists. Rather than being curious about a new environment and culture they were d-i-s-g-u-s-t-e-d and apathetic. They couldn’t possibly have thought that the difficulties that arose and the filth they saw were anything but to be expected! They seemed to be looking for a clean problem free journey. This seems terribly illogical. Part of this IS explained by the difference between the man and the women, and it is interesting to consider which one of them really was the “traveler”.
There are loose ends in this novel, characters thrown in that one cannot fully understand. What happens to them is left completely unresolved. Nope this was not well done.
There is quite a bit that can be discussed in this book, but I can only give it two stars. It was not terrible, but just OK.
Well, I'm not quite sure what to say about this one. So let me start by saying that Jennifer Connolly was an excellent reader. For most of the book, she maintained a flat, blasé tone that was just right for the story of Port and Kit Moresby, two bored, falling out of love with each other Ameriocans traveling in post-war North Africa.
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. Port and Kit (joined at times by another American, Tunner, an an odious British mother and son, the Lyles) travel through various cities and landscapes, 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, despite 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 strongly 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 (or listen to) anything else by Bowles, it will be because of his style--not his nearly-nonexistent agility with plot or character.
A very moving story. It's hard to break listening.
Excellent performance by Jennifer Connely.
Her voice is perfect. Please, more of her.
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