In the nineteenth century there flourished a peculiar breed of Englishmen—often the second sons of the aristocracy, or ambitious men from a lower class—who as soldiers, consuls and tea planters, were largely responsible for making England a great colonial power.Save for the fact that he is a staunch anticolonialist, Paul Bowles resembles these men in many respects. Like them, he appears to be happiest away from civilization as we know it; like them, he thrives when the traveling is hardest, the food ghastly or infrequent, water scarce, heat intolerable, or mosquitoes abundant.This engaging collection of eight travel essays by the author of such noted fiction as The Sheltering Sky and The Delicate Prey deals largely with places in the world that few Westerners have ever heard of, much less seen—places as yet unencumbered by the trappings, luxuries, and corruptions of modern civilization. Except for one essay on Central America, all of these pieces are concerned with remote spots in the Hindu, Buddhist, or Mohammedan worlds. The author is a sympathetic and discerning interpreter of these alien cultures, and his eyes and ears are especially alert both to what is bizarre and what is wise in the civilizations in which he settles. He is also acutely aware of the transitions occurring on the fringes of many of these regions, and he is disturbed and indignant about the corrosive effect of Western culture on the non-Christian way of life.Above all, however, Paul Bowles is a superb and observant traveler—born wanderer who finds pleasure in the inaccessible and who cheerfully endures the concomitant hardships matter-of-factly and with humor.These essays provide us with Paul Bowles's characteristic insightfulness and bring us closer to a world we frequently hear about, but often find difficult to understand.
PAUL BOWLES was born in 1911 in New York City. He was first published in the old transition in 1928, and entered the University of Virginia in 1929, which he quit for the Left Bank. Two years later he made his first visit to North Africa, a tentative trip which lasted for four years. He intended to return there to live, but World War II interfered; instead, he spent five years in Latin America. After the war Mr. Bowles returned to Morocco to buy a small house in the medina of Tangier, and from this base he began to travel southward and eastward. In 1949 he first visited Ceylon and India, and returned often, eventually buying a small island off the south coast of Ceylon, which served as his winter headquarters until 1959. Now, once again, he lives all year round in Morocco. Mr. Bowles is the author of three novels, The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, and The Spider's House, and of a collection of short stories, The Delicate Prey. He is also well known as a composer; and single-handedly, over a period of years, he has garnered for the Library of Congress one of the largest and most diversified collections of recordings of native North African music.