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Travels: Collected Writings, 1950-93 by Paul Bowles
Published by Sort of Books, isbn 978-0956003874, 508 pages, paperback, £ 14.99

Paul Bowles is the quintessential expatriate writer, the man who fled the suburban pomposity of twentieth-century America to find a life worth living abroad. This was no mannered affectation, nor a lifestyle choice fuelled by remittances from a family trust fund. He fled America to find culture, literally jumping on a ship to take him to the streets of Paris in 1929 and escape the hard-drinking gentleman-students of the University of Virginia. Though lured back by his family to finish his degree, his passion for travel would never waver. Bowles endured hunger, bleak lodgings and occasional bouts of work to fuel his travels. Though penniless he was always impeccably turned-out and kept a weather-eye for a literate and hospitable host, so that he was ultimately able to charm his way into most of the intellectual, artistic and musical households of pre-war Europe.

Although he had been travelling in North Africa since 1931, it was not until 1950 that he established a base in the Moroccan port of Tangier, complete with an open-top jaguar and a uniformed Moroccan chauffeur. He also bought Taprobane (an island off the coast of Ceylon) and found a wife – a loving friend in the Bloomsbury style of life - in the shape of the writer Jane Bowles, who loved drink and women, but had a heart of pure gold. This was all funded by three best-selling novels, which also allowed Bowles to return old debts of hospitality. Virtually all the names of American post-war literature - Gore Vidal, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams – seemed to discover Morocco and hashish as guests of the Bowles’s.

By 1957 the easy money had ebbed away and Paul was back to picking up odd bits of work. He was good at this, for he could translate, write poetry, work on scripts as well as compose music for both Broadway and Hollywood. He also wrote about his travels for American magazines such as Holiday, which in this period commissioned thoughtful essays from writers of the calibre of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Durrell.

This forgotten archive has been patiently excavated to produce a new Bowles collection. Travels is both a labour of love and a treasure-house for any modern traveller, full of hauntingly evocative tales of Istanbul, Ceylon, the Atlas mountains, Kenya, the Sahara, Central America and Tangier before a package tourist had even been so much as dreamed of. This was a time when even a bohemian like Bowles travelled for months, and by liner, accompanied by leather trunks full of clothes and books, not to mention parrots and rackety companions. Bowles has a wonderful ear for music, language and human absurdity, but his real gift is for recording the resilience, worth and dignity of indigenous cultures before are steamrollered by Western civilization in either its Communist or Capitalist manifestations. In his role as a factual journalist we also pick up a much kinder, more considerate and compassionate voice, especially when compared to the amoral malevolence of his fiction, which has been compared to a cocktail of Saki, Webster and Poe perfumed with hashish.

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