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The Sheltering Sky

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  13,609 ratings  ·  996 reviews
The Sheltering Sky is a landmark of twentieth-century literature. In this intensely fascinating story, Paul Bowles examines the ways in which Americans' incomprehension of alien cultures leads to the ultimate destruction of those cultures.

A story about three American travelers adrift in the cities and deserts of North Africa after World War II, The Sheltering Sky explores...more
Paperback, 342 pages
Published June 1st 2007 by Penguin Books (first published 1949)
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1984 by George OrwellThe Road by Cormac McCarthyAmerican Psycho by Bret Easton EllisLord of the Flies by William GoldingA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Darkest Books Of All Time
75th out of 590 books — 840 voters
1984 by George OrwellAnimal Farm by George OrwellThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne FrankThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupéryThe Stranger by Albert Camus
Best Books of the Decade: 1940's
52nd out of 381 books — 454 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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sckenda
Aug 27, 2014 sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Travelers Not Tourists; Desert Existentialists
Recommended to sckenda by: Modern Library 100
"A black star appears, a point of darkness in the night sky's clarity. Point of darkness and gateway to repose. Reach out, pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky, take repose." (229)

The Sahara Desert called unto them. It beckoned them deeper into its vast emptiness. They went. What were they running from? What were they seeking? What did they find?

Port Moresby and his wife Kit have come to Algeria to get away from the Second World War. But the large coastal cities of North Africa have beco...more
Lara Messersmith-Glavin
"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."

This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Sheltering Sky with that strange act of framing that so many authors employ, using the words of others to summarize or introduce the feelings that they are about to try to invoke in their readers. Above this quote is another phrase: "Tea in the Sahara," a chapter title, now-familiar but difficult to place. This was taken by none other than the band The...more
Whitaker
Like a sweet-talking charmer, Bowles seduced me with his crystalline prose. His sentences whispered in my ear and nibbled my nape, erasing thought from my haze-addled brain.

Later, many days later, I came to with a throbbing headache and a sour taste in my mouth. The crystal turned out to be crystal meth and it had severely eroded my judgement. What I had taken to be beautiful and enticing was just a jaded street hustler peddling the same old weary goods that had been around the block just too m...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: A craven, self-preservationistic 2* of five

BkC8: Tedious twaddle.

When I'm right, I'm right.

The Book Report: Kit and Port Moresby (get the Australia/New Guinea colonial joke, huh? huh? How clever is Paul Bowles, right?) are not gonna make it as a couple. They just aren't. So, in time-honored rich-couple-in-over-relationship fashion, they Travel. They don't take a trip, or a vacation, oh perish forbid, they Travel. North Africa, they think, no one we know will be there so we won't have to...more
trivialchemy
In my younger days, I sensed that this was a rudely under-appreciated book that, merely acclaimed, deserved inclusion within the canon of the Gods themselves (Hemingway, Melville, Joyce, McCarthy). More recently, I have realized that not the book qua narrative, but its singular intimacy with my person colored the profoundness of my love-affair with this novel. As a result, my review must be peculiarly subjective for someone so accustomed to the pretense of objectivity.

Whether its effect on my li...more
Chip
Oh man oh man. Someday I will have to revisit this, as I seem to mention it to anyone or anything who is willing to listen. Has probably become my favorite book of all time: simultaneously capturing the utter loneliness of existence, and the strange beauty of the desert/and/or the foreign. Makes me want to travel, makes me want to stay home and hide under the covers...it's that good.

I've read almost all of Bowles' other stuff, and some of it comes close to this (especially Let it Come Down), bu...more
Jessica
Jul 15, 2007 Jessica rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Old Men
I rarely don't finish a book. This is a personal tendency (obsessiveness) which cemented itself during forays into such tomes as Les Miserables (5th grade) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (10th grade) in which the endeavor seemed like it would be fruitless, and then, ahoy! A beautiful gem on the sparkling sea surfaces, a hundred or so pages in, and I was rewarded for my patience...
So it pains me to report that not even the chance of such a obscured jewel could keep me interested in A Sheltering Sk...more
S.
This is an ambitious novel about alienation, isolation and despair. The story revolves around the character of Port Moresby, who, in disillusioned response to WWII, rejects America and Europe, leaving NY for Africa with his wife Kit as well as an acquaintance named Tunner, whom they both dislike.

Port feels Africa is less marred by war, and aims to spend a long period of time there. It’s not that he would fit in, he just wants to escape, or disappear. He may hope to flee his emptiness, but unfort...more
Mariel
Sep 27, 2014 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: the sky here's very strange
Recommended to Mariel by: tea in the sahara
The desert- its very silence was like a tacit admission of the half-conscious presence it harbored.

The dog's dead eye twitches like nails and hair curling on a grave. Ancient symbols of trickster rabbits depict that stolen cereal tastes better. I have a long stick to prod the poor doggy for some answers. He's the only creature in sight with a memory of life. Wrestling with the strange inhabitants sound closer to where you could go.

My sister told me that I was unfair complaining that some books...more
David
i was all WOW! or maybe i was all WOWZY WOW WOW after i finished it. this quote will kill you. ""Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
Dec 28, 2008 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Diehard romantics and existential atheists
Forgot how much I loved this book. Love it. The richness of the character portraits, relationships, and existential themes; as well as the startling detail of the images are highlighted even more by knowing the ending.

Back with more ... heading into Part II.

12/28/08: A piece of writing by Donald Powell [link now dead-sorry!:] caused me to think about this book, and my very different response to it from when I first read it in my early 20s to 20 years later, when I am--ahem--not in my early 20s.

B...more
Szplug
Shivering in the antarctic morality of The Delicate Prey , I'm continually needled by the desire to reread TSS and discover if I would still care as little for it today as I did when I read it more than a dozen years ago. I came to it back then with a fair amount of anticipation, having read several raving reviews, especially from posters I had enjoyed on that usenet staple rec.arts.books; and the disappointment that Bowles engendered in me was crushing. Too distant a narrative; Yank characters...more
Chrissie
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 autho...more
Amy
In this novel a husband and wife and a sorta friend of theirs are travelling around North Africa. It's the 1940s, so one has to contextualize the sometimes awkward/semi-racist descriptions of the "natives." Or if you aren't interested in giving the characters any leeway, that's okay too, but the book works very well as a portrayal of arrogant, neurotic Americans in a hostile, alien world.

A lot of shit goes down. At first you might think that you are just witnessing the deterioration of a marria...more
Sara
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mary
“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...more
AC
Having seen the movie, which of course was uneven, I hesitated about reading this book - but needed something I could beat up at the beach. Then there were quite a few quite negative reviews it's gotten from GR friends (that I respect).

Well..., invho, this book is nearly flawless and is a work of near genius. The overall conception, the structure and composition, the depth of language, intelligence... AND the depth of feeling.... Character and plot..., nearly flawless. I would have asked him to...more
Genia Lukin
Maybe I just don't enjoy post-colonial existential angst. I don't know. perhaps this sort of thing doesn't age as well as other subjects, but I can say I didn't enjoy The Stranger very much, and i found this book to be ultimately extremely boring.

I find it hard even to put down precisely which parts had bored me more than others, but there was a sense of complete offhandedness in the way the book was written that I found basically put me to sleep while reading. Port and Kit were glorified touris...more
Evan
The Sheltering Sky is yet another mid-century tale of First World expats willfully flouting the bounds of the Baedeker. In writing this review I'm flouting the bounds of mine.

I'm sure it's possible to write an "anti-review," or an "un-review," which is what I might call a review written far too long after reading the work being considered--in this case, almost four years. I normally don't do this, because I don't think such a review is really adequate or acceptable, as themes and supporting deta...more
Kaitlyn Barrett
Meh. For all the years that I’ve been thinking about this book and obsessing about parts of the movie, I found the actual text underwhelming and bewildering. I don’t understand why people would behave this way – especially the relationship between Port and Kit – and I don’t feel I got enough info to actually get it.

Bowles opens Pandora’s box at the end when Kit suffers a psychotic break and he writes it as a series of inexplicable choices made through pain and terror. If he really wanted to take...more
Magdelanye
The first time I read this book I was in my 20's, and though it made a deep impression on me, and I loved it passionately, that was so long ago that I was amazed and somewhat dismayed to find that I remembered nothing of the detail. Only towards the end, when I was not surprised by the bizarre events that unfolded, did I have any sense even of deju vu. It was as if I was reading it for the first time.
Once again I was swept up in the lyrical writing and scope of the story.
Bowles is a brilliant s...more
Garrett
Dec 04, 2007 Garrett rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people interested in any sort of travel writing
This one reminds me much of both Greene and Maugham. The travelers in the Sheltering Sky are experienced, for sure, dedicated to really getting to know a place, hell-bent (literally) on getting the full experience, of living instead of touring. The swagger and confidence they have, the invincibility they feel, their sense of entitlement ultimately destroys them all in one way or another.
Bowles does an amazing job of describing the landscape (sub-Saharan Africa after WWII), the sickness of one of...more
Nick
One of the best novels I have ever read. I burned through this book, could not put it down. God, I can’t even begin to talk about how incredible it is. Too much to say! Beautiful language, imagery, characters, psychological insights, plot, theme, and, of course, setting. Exoticism, romance, mystery, drama, life, sickness, death. This book is terrifying as it pushes you right up against the Void. It accomplishes what Heart of Darkness only attempted.

I think I would not have appreciated this as mu...more
Will Byrnes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Moses Kilolo
I found the third part of this book pure genius. What Kit goes through after she abandons her husband Port to death is absolutely unimaginable, but Bowles captures it so well you feel like you are a part of the experience.

I have this infatuation with knowing what life is like in Northern Africa, especially in Morocco, and I'm glad I read this book, even though it was written so long ago.

It is the kind of books that will endure through time...!
Tony
Bowles, Paul. THE SHELTERING SKY. (1949). ****.
Early on, you suspect that you have entered a novel that has been over-rated since the day of its release. Then you are suddenly sucked into the desert regions of North Africa and sharing the lives of its protagonists. A young married couple from New York, along with a less than desired young man as a companion, has travelled to Africa in an attempt to reconcile their differences and, with any luck, put their marriage back together again. They fin...more
David
Bowles's writing still gets under one's skin, but this didn't hold up particularly well on a second reading over the weekend. I think I was in my twenties when I first read "The Sheltering Sky"; what seemed profound back then seems considerably less so now. The ennui of the main protagonists didn't bother me particularly when I first read the book; this time around I wanted to reach in and slap them to their senses. Many times over. By and large they seemed primarily shallow, stupid, and self-ce...more
Amanda
decadently written and beautifully tragic...
"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the fu...more
Michael Conland
I'm going to start with the only positives I have for this novel.

First and foremost, I enjoyed the writing style. Bowles' command of English is excellent, he can (when he chooses) really paint a picture and turns some excellent phrases in here. Similarly, there are a couple of excellent passages in this novel.

Unfortunately, that is all I feel this book has going for it. Despite his masterful use of the language, he completely fails to create any content I could enjoy.

There's barely any real plo...more
Sarah
Found this hard to get into and there were a couple of aborted attempts before I managed to get going.

once started I still didn't find myself gripped as I normally do by a story. Probably because the characters were not especially likable and that had a knock on effect I think in that what should have been significant moments not being really having any impact. There was nothing making me turn the page except will power to get to the end.

However it wasn't all bad and there were a few moments of...more
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Why Bowles is such a master of suspense 11 19 Jun 27, 2014 02:16PM  
Why couldn't I put this book down? 11 40 May 14, 2014 06:47PM  
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7659
Paul Bowles grew up in New York, and attended college at the University of Virginia before traveling to Paris, where became a part of Gertrude Stein's literary and artistic circle. Following her advice, he took his first trip to Tangiers in 1931 with his friend, composer Aaron Copeland.

In 1938 he married author and playwright Jane Auer (see: Jane Bowles). He moved to Tangiers permanently in 1947,...more
More about Paul Bowles...
Let it Come Down The Stories of Paul Bowles The Spider's House Collected Stories, 1939-1976 The Delicate Prey and Other Stories

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“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.” 201 likes
“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 that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” 79 likes
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