Travel literature review: Paul Bowles' collected writings, 1950-93

Travels: Collected Writings by Paul Bowles

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Reviewed by Trent Holden

While Paul Bowles may not have the celebrity status of some of his contemporaries, namely the holy trinity of Beat writers (Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac), his contribution to 20th-century literature was arguably just as significant. He’s remembered as one of the literary beacons of his time, not only because of his stellar body of work (including the masterpiece The Sheltering Sky), but also as something of a patron, inspiring the likes of William S Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Brion Gysin, and playing host to a who’s who of literary icons in his adopted town of Tangier – including Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal.

Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-93 is packed with Bowles’ lovely prose detailing exotic travel stories that will more than satisfy existing fans, and make a great starting point for readers new to his work.

His travel memoirs cover all corners of Morocco, as well as France where he reminisces spending time with Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. He writes of travelling across Guatemala with his wife Jane and a parrot, and buying their own island in Sri Lanka. He also recalls journeys to Costa Rica, Kenya, Algeria, Turkey, Spain and India. The book concludes with a previously unpublished micro autobiography that will leave readers envious that someone has managed to pack so much into one life.

But it’s his impressions of Morocco where Bowles’ writing really shines. His passion and impeccable cultural knowledge of the country are unparalleled for a non-native. From Berber culture (particularly music), desert towns, Fez, Casablanca and Marrakesh to attending lavish parties in Tangier, Bowles’ love of everything Morocco is both intoxicating and inspiring.

Travels also features letters and essays on anything from the politics of America and it looking to Europe for cultural meaning, to his interpretation of Islam, which Bowles narrates through his own travel experiences - making for a fascinating journey.

This is essential reading for not only all Bowles fans, but anyone interested in travel writing – as few have truly lived the life he has, immersed deep within the culture and blessed with the ability to articulate life as he saw it.

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