By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Jennifer Connelly
The Sheltering Sky seems to be written about a man but is about a woman. Not surprisingly, a woman chooses to narrate the story.
By the middle of the book, one understands why a woman’s narration makes the story better; particularly when the woman is physically reminiscent of Paul Bowles’ main character. Published in 1949, The Sheltering Sky is narrated by Jennifer Connelly.
At first, a reader presumes the central character of the novel is Port Moresby, Kit’s husband. But, the book graduates from interesting to mesmerizing when Kit is recognized as the author’s most dramatic character.
The first half of this novel seems ponderous but the last half changes that mistaken opinion. The beginning perfectly sets the character of the story by juxtaposing world travel tedium with world travel misadventure.
There is an inherent unease that accompanies foreign travel. Anyone traveling to another country, particularly for the first time, knows the unease one feels. Language and custom in different countries are windows to a different way of life. When one of the windows is broken by an ignorant traveler, the broken shards have sharp edges. Asking directions is not simple. Asking questions can offend native customs. Accepting or rejecting invitations may have unexpected consequences. Indigenous citizens, as well as fellow travelers, intentionally and unintentionally take advantage of ignorant strangers.
The Sheltering Sky illustrates how travel unease is not limited by being a stranger in a strange land. Unease may come from traveling companions and the people you meet. Traveling companions become uneasy with each other because they are out of their comfort zone, away from the security of a culture they know. There is a loss of privacy. Travelers are wary of their interdependence because there is nowhere to turn but to each other. Foreign lands and people seem strange and unknowable–isolating and inherently uncomfortable.
Finally, Bowles offers a story that illustrates the danger of bacterial or viral infection when traveling in foreign countries. Everything that could go wrong seems to go wrong in The Sheltering Sky. Kit has an extraordinary adventure that begins in boredom and dependence, grows into terror and independence, and resolves in grim determination.
There may be a …Sheltering Sky for all human beings but it is a sky that shows no favor. Bowles’ story infers that humans live alone and die alone. Life is life. One may die as an ignorant slave of his/her own parochialism, or–have lived as an experienced traveler.