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Travels Paperback – 24 Jun 2010
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Bowles is at his best when writing about places. He can evoke a place with a few sure strokes. (New York Times)
Collected travel writing by a 20th century master, illustrated with rare photographs from the Bowles archive, and an introduction by Paul Theroux.See all Product description
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The 39 travel essays in this volume show a different touch from Bowles' novels. Written over a 40 year period, most of the essays were commissioned by magazines of the time, including "Holiday" "The Nation", "The American Mercury"," "Gentleman's Quarterly" and more. Bowles wrote some of the essays as introductions to books by other writers, while two of the essays are published in this collection for the first time. The writing is accessible and entertaining. Several of the essays are much more extended that would be possible in most magazine writing of today.
The essays show a great deal of immediacy and a sharp power of description. The tone of the pieces is often informal and colloquial with Bowles inviting his readers along as guests. The essays include substantial historical background for places many readers will find exotic and strange. Several essays deal with the same place at different times and slightly different locales, offering varying perspectives. The essays are largely arranged in the order in which they were written. The first two essays, however, describe Bowles' early adventures as a young man in his late teens and early 20's struggling to find his way with little money. These essays present a lively picture of bohemian artistic life in the Paris between the World Wars.
Paris is not the focus of the volume. The reader of this book will travel with Bowles to the Sahara desert, Spain, Ceylon, Turkey, Kenya, Thailand, and India. Most of all, the reader will travel with Bowles to his beloved Morocco. The Moroccan journeys go to places of romance in the reader's imagination, including Tangier, Marrakesh, Casablanca, and Fez. There are also essays on rural life in the Moroccan hills. In the late 1950s, Bowles travelled over 25,000 miles in Morocco to record and preserve the dying traditions of Moroccan folk music. Several extended essays in this book document his efforts. The book covers ancient walled cities with mysterious alleys, winding streets, native cafes and lively bazaars. Bowles teaches the reader a great deal about the interaction between the local populations and the Europeans, and he regrets the impending change to modernity. He is unapologetic about his use of kif, hashish, and other substances. In addition to towns and cities, he portrays beaches, large deserts, mountains, and oceans. He tells stories.
While most of the essays are place-specific, Bowles discusses his view of travel writing in some of the pieces, including, "The Challenge to Identity", first published in 1958 in "The Nation". Bowles writes:
"The subject-matter of the best travel books is the conflict between writer and place. It is not important which of them carries the day, so long as the struggle is faithfully recorded."
"The writer must make the decision to adhere to a scrupulous honesty in reporting. Any conscious distortion is equivalent to cheating at solitaire: the purpose of the game is nullified. The account must be as near the truth as he can get, and it seems to me the easiest way to achieve that is to aim for precision in describing his own reactions. A reader can get an idea of what a place is really like only if he knows what its effects were upon someone of whose character he has some idea, of whose preferences he is aware. Thus it seems essential that the writer place a certain insistence upon the objective presentation of his own personality; it provides an interpretative gauge with which the reader can measure for himself the relative importance of each detail, like the scale of miles in the corner of a map."
Bowles admirably carries out his stated purpose for travel writing in the essays collected in this volume.
One of the essays I most enjoyed was "Yallah" which Bowles wrote as an introduction to a book of photographs of the Sahara Desert. The essay captures a great deal of that strange place. The final essay, "Paul Bowles: his Life" is less the story of a journey that an autobiography written in broken, poetic lines. This previously unpublished work offers an introduction to Bowles' life, thinking, and wanderings.
I am not likely to visit many of the places that Bowles describes, or more accurately, the successors to these places in the 21st Century. This book engaged me and put me in touch with the places and people it describes, which is the character of good writing in many genres. It is valuable to have Bowles' travel essays collected and preserved in a single volume. Readers with an interest in Bowles, or simply in good writing, will enjoy this collection.
There are two summaries of his life, one by the author himself and the other by Daniel Halpern. The introduction is by Paul Theroux and would be forgettable were it not for its errors and idiocies.
Those familiar with Bowles writings will not be disappointed, for his attention to his surroundings, his reactions to them and the art of how to communicate with the reader are delightful.
Why 1993 was chosen as a cut-off date I cannot say. I know of at least one essay written later that might have been included here.
This book has not yet been published in the U.S.A. (december 2010)
More information can be found at the excellent website....the author's name (all one word) followed by "dot" "org".
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