Up Above the World – Paul Bowles

Up Above the World is an engrossing novel written by American author Paul Bowles in 1966. If you like the works of Ian McEwan, I think you might like this book. However, it is definitely not a beach book; let me tell you in advance. No matter how hard I tried to read at the beach, I always found myself reading at home. It’s one of those books that needs a little more attention.


Up Above the World tells the story of an elderly and wealthy American professor’s journey to Latin America with his much-younger wife. This journey turns into an adventure that will completely change their lives, rather than an ordinary and fun vacation. The twists and turns in this exciting couple’s relationship become more gloomy with the heat, sultry weather and tropical environment of Latin America. I can say that the author has officially treated the place as a character.

Up Above the World - Paul Bowles

And, of course, after a while, our couple comes across another couple who will change the course of the book. This encounter, which seems like a complete coincidence, is just the beginning of a finely crafted plan. The author has created his characters so well that they all feel like they will come out of the book and share something with the reader.

However, I have always read Up Above the World uneasily, as I could not warm to any of the characters entirely and could not trust them. Especially Grove and his young mistress, whom we do not fully understand what happened, are people I would never want to meet. If you like character novels more than plot-oriented stories, you might like Up Above the World too. Be prepared to be surprised from start to finish, and be on your toes. Enjoy!

Up Above the World - Paul Bowles

Up Above the World

Up Above the World: On the terrace of an elaborate hilltop apartment overlooking a Central American capital, four people sit making polite conversation. The American couple—an elderly physician and his young wife—are tourists. Their host, whom they have just met, is a young man of striking good looks and charm. The girl, his mistress, is very young and very beautiful. Sitting there, watching the sunset, the Slades seem to be enjoying the sort of fortunate chance encounter that travelers cherish. But amid the civilities and small talk, the host’s casual remark to the American woman proves prophetic: “It’s not exactly what you think.”

Masterfully—with the poetic control that has always characterized his work—Paul Bowles leads the reader beneath the surface of hospitality and luxury into a tortuous maze of human relationships and shifting moods, until what seems at first a merely casual encounter is seen to be one rooted in viciousness and horror. Up Above the World.

Paul Bowles

Paul Bowles, in full Paul Frederic Bowles, (born December 30, 1910, New York, New York, U.S.—died November 18, 1999, Tangier, Morocco), American-born composer, translator, and author of novels and short stories in which violent events and psychological collapse are recounted in a detached and elegant style. His protagonists are often Europeans or Americans who are maimed by their contact with powerful traditional cultures.

Bowles began publishing Surrealist poetry in the Parisian magazine transition at the age of 16. After briefly attending the University of Virginia, he traveled to Paris, where his interests turned to music. In 1929 he returned to New York and began studying musical composition under Aaron Copland. Bowles became a sought-after composer, writing music for more than 30 theatrical productions and films.

During this time, he also became a member of the loose society of literary expatriates in Europe and North Africa and started writing short stories. In 1947 he and his wife, writer Jane Bowles, settled in Tangier, Morocco, a city that became his most potent source of inspiration. There, he wrote his first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949; film, 1990), a harsh tale of death, rape, and sexual obsession. It became a best-seller and made Bowles a leading figure in the city’s expatriate artistic community.

Bowles’s later novels include Let It Come Down (1952), The Spider’s House (1955), and Up Above the World (1966). His Collected Stories, 1939–1976 (1979) and his subsequent short-story collections, which include Midnight Mass (1981) and Call at Corazón (1988), also depict human depravity amid exotic settings. Bowles recorded Moroccan folk music for the U.S. Library of Congress, wrote travel essays, translated works from several European and Middle Eastern languages into English, and recorded and translated oral tales from Maghribi Arabic into English. Without Stopping (1972) and Two Years Beside the Strait: Tangier Journal 1987–1989 (1990; U.S. title, Days) are autobiographical.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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