The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles, New Directions Books, 1949, 318 pp
Paul Bowles spent more of his life as a composer than as a writer. The Sheltering Sky is his first and best-known novel, based on his own travels in North Africa and his version of existentialism.
Port Moresby and his wife Kit leave New York City after WWII and travel through North Africa and the Sahara. They are very young and their marriage is in trouble. They are in Africa for different reasons. Actually Port doesn't quite know why he is there, but Kit is following him for the sake of love.
I did not like the book for the first half because they are both such weak and confused people so that there seemed to be no point to the story besides pointlessness. That is not my understanding of existentialism and Port has no reason, or at least none is given, for his despair. I did like the author's explanation of the difference between a tourist and a traveler on page 14:
"Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, a traveler, belonging no more to one place than the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another."
In Book Two, it becomes Kit's story and then it gets better and even exciting. The underlying sense of dread, present from the first page, becomes life experience. Kit is a more developed character, though still a bit flat. The ending is ambiguous. Tragic perhaps, but possibly a breakthrough for Kit. The issue here is the clash and difficulties of co-existence between Westerners and non-Western peoples. Clearly still a world issue in today's times.
The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen, Alfred A Knopf, 1949, 372 pp
I don't know about this book. The story was good. A woman in England during WWII, has a lover and a son. She learns that her lover may be a spy for the enemy. You don't find out until near the end whether or not he is.
The writing is very exquisite. I had to read slowly because the parsing of sentences was so English, but when she was good, I loved the way she put things. The characters were well defined and each had a voice. The setting of London during bombings, black-outs and food shortages is made very real.
I think the trouble is that you want to admire Stella, the main character, but she is not really admirable. She is a woman trying to survive in that time and place, wanting love, but she is not all that strong.
The Golden Apples, Eudora Welty, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1949, 244 pp
This is a collection of short stories which are all about the same Southern town and people in it, covering a couple generations. Except for the first story, "Shower of Gold", I did not find this book as enjoyable as her earlier ones.
As usual, there reside here a cast of unique individuals, which is one thing I like about Welty. Her characters are one of a kind, not archetypes, the way people are in real life. Another thing I like, even though it means wading through so much description, is her creation of the place. By the end of the book, I felt that I knew my way around the town of Morgana and what sort of weather they had, how it smelled, etc. I wonder if some of that ability to describe place is getting lost in today's writing because we have so much film and video around us.
My only problem was the stories themselves, in which very little actually happened. They were more like character studies. But I did realize that preserved here is an era of the American South that is gone and that was worth writing about and worth reading.
Here are the award winning books for 1949:
The Pulitzer Prize:
Guard of Honor, James Gould Cozzens, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc, 1949, 631 pp
I had never heard of this book and that may be because it is highly dated. It concerns only three days on a base of the American Army Air Force in Ocarana, Florida during World War II. At that time, the Air Force was not yet a separate branch of the military but part of the Army and much of the might of air power was being developed as WWII was fought.
In those three days everything that could go wrong at such a base, does. In addition, much of the trouble has racism at its root. There is a cast of at least 20 characters (and about 10 main characters), so Cozzens uses the circumstances as a frame on which to do character studies of these numerous men and women. The women include WACS and officers' wives. He also throws in a sort of philosophy of war and army life.
So much goes wrong by the second day that I expected a big tragic ending. Instead, it all simmers down and gets approximately sorted out, so that you understand that life will go on. I suppose that could be a motto of war and army life.
Generally it was all "good" writing, as it would be taught in English class and newspaper writer training. I found it much too wordy, somewhat pedantic and never really gripping or exciting. The ending was unforgiveable after 550 pages of build-up. I can see why literature needed a Hemingway to come along.
Newbery Award ( for children's/ young adult fiction):
King of the Wind, Marguerite Henry, Rand McNally and Company, 1948, 173 pp
An Arabian horse, his faithful horseboy and a cat named Grimalkin, travel from Morocco to France to England. They face and survive many troubles but Sham, the horse, becomes the first to breed a new line of racehorses for Britian and the world.
The story is well told, fast-paced and Agba, the boy, is loyal and steadfast. An old Arabian story goes that when Allah created the horse, he said to the wind, "I will that a creature come from thee. Condense thyself." And the wind condensed itself and the result was the horse!
Caldecott Medal Award (for children's picture book):
The Big Snow, Berta and Elmer Hader, The Macmillan Company, 1948, 43 pp
Nice illustrations, typical for the times. All the animals get ready for winter, snow comes, local people put out seeds to feed them, winter passes. There is even a groundhog who comes out on February second.