When I read this book the first time, I was living in Morocco, the country where the author Paul Bowles spent most of his life. Centred around busy-minded, unsure, wandering expatriates, it was pretty easy for me to sink into. It was a pleasure to find the book again, here in Kabak, Turkey. Again I couldn't help but dog-ear pages to remind myself to copy out some passages.
Michael Hoffman’s introduction to the book:
what happens is not so much friction or collision as a reduced density, incomprehension, the impossibility of communicationOften this is how I experience life abroad, and it leaves me craving connection, meaning, understanding, conversation, expanded and built-up ideas.
On the bizarre characters, the Lyles:
The novelty of the caricature was wearing off. Port was beginning to feel smothered sitting there between them; their obsessions depressed him.On why the character Port doesn’t write:
there had been nothing to write about – he could not establish a connexion in his mind between the absurd trivialities which filled the day and the serious business of putting words to paper.I know this feeling. But then I look back and realize what an interesting and rich bounty of details was available to me during a period of time in a particular place, and I am sad to have already lost access to it.
Port on death and finiteness:
‘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 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, 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.’Kit when she bathes in the oasis at night:
She felt a strange intensity being born within her. As she looked about the quiet garden she had the impression that for the first time since her childhood she was seeing objects clearly.The next day, when she knows she will travel with the men of the caravan:
Even as she saw these two men she knew that she would accompany them, and the certainty gave her an unexpected sense of power: instead of feeling the omens, she would now make them, be them herself.I love that: make the omens, be the omens.