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.