Picks and Pans Review: The Dream at the End of the World

updated 08/26/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/26/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Michelle Green

After a slow start, this account of Tangier, Morocco, and the writers and artists who made up its post-World War II cafe society turns into a fascinating study of an odd era in American expatriate history.

Unfortunately for author Green (a PEOPLE senior writer), the central figure in the book—writer Paul Bowles—is not well-known enough to draw a large audience. If only last year's movie The Sheltering Sky (based on one of Bowles's novels) had been more successful, Bowles—and Green—might have found themselves with an Out of Africa/Isak Dinesen-like resurgence on their hands.

But then this is not a simple biography of Bowles and his tormented wife, Jane; instead, Green uses them as the center around which better-known figures—Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, heiress Barbara Hutton—circulated in postwar North Africa. The result is part biography, part cultural history and part gossip column.

Green, clearly intrigued with her subject, offers some surprises. Notable is her depiction of William S. Burroughs, friend of the Bowleses, would-be lover of poet Allen Ginsburg and author of Naked Lunch. While portraying him as a drug-addicted "monster," Green also makes him sympathetic: "For all of his guardedness, he had the look of a lone wolf afraid of the world outside his lair."

Too many of her observations are about such obscure figures as writer Alfred Chester and artist Brion Gysin. While part of the decadent tableau that was Tangier, where the natives were "quaint extras," these characters take pages away from the central players.

But maybe this meticulously reported book will inspire readers to read more about the Bowleses, who are described as "twisted cypress trees that had become entwined...in the midst of chaos." (HarperCollins, $22.95)

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