A Hundred
Camels in the Courtyard


Paul Bowles Reads

CD cover image by Brion Gysin
ISBN 0-932274-55-2
Unabridged. Cadmus Editions/
Dom America 2 CD Audiobook
edited and digitally reengineered by Jon Carlson and Chris Hanzsek
from original recordings by Paul Bowles done in 1981
Reading time: 2 hours
CD released 1999

Edited and digitally reengineered by Jon Carlson and Chris Hanzsek at Hanzsek Audio in Seattle. With Paul Bowles' essay commissioned by Cadmus Editions for this work and Brion Gysin's painting of the Djmaa al Fnaa in Marrakech. This classic suite of four interconnected kif tales is the only full-length work ever recorded by Paul Bowles. A joint Cadmus Editions/Dom America production. Double audio CD with printed insert.

from the introductory essay by Paul Bowles:

Moroccan kif-smokers like to speak of the “two worlds,” the one ruled by inexorable natural laws, and the other, the kif world, in which each person perceives “reality” according to the projections of his own essence, the state of consciousness in which the elements of the physical universe are automatically rearranged by cannabis to suit the requirements of the individual. These distorted variations in themselves generally are of scant interest to anyone but the subject at the time he is experiencing them. An intelligent smoker, nevertheless, can aid in directing the process of deformation in such a way that the results will have value to him in his daily life. If he has faith in the accuracy of his interpretations, he will accept them as decisive, and use them to determine a subsequent plan of action. Thus, for a dedicated smoker, the passage to the “other world” is often a pilgrimage undertaken for the express purpose of oracular consultation.

Paul Bowles reads this classic suite of Moroccan kif stories that he recorded in Tangier, Morocco, in the Fall of 1978. Previously released as a 2 LP recording in 1981, and long sold out, these stories are now being made available again as a 2 CD audiobook.

Bowles' accompanying essay for this recording (which is printed in the included booklet and from which we have excerpted the fragment above) sets forth the method of writing employed in these stories—the selection of arbitrary incidents and phenomena factored into the kif-smoker's imperium of sensibility.

About the Recording

A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard consists of only four stories, each revolving around the world of the kif smoker. Though the stories are entrancing in and of themselves, Bowles, also a composer, seems to have written the quartet as a unified suite, so mellifluous are the interrelationships between the tales. This musical aspect becomes even more evident while listening to the recording of the work Bowles made, originally released in 1981 by Cadmus Editions as a limited edition double album, and now available on CD.

Bowles's gravelly speech is the perfect medium in which to encounter these smoke-filled stories; his dispassionate narration is perfectly sliced to ribbons each time he gives voice to one of his characters. Adding to the ambiance is the fact that the listener can tell these recordings weren't made in a pristine studio but in the field. At times, Moroccan music and chattering voices can be heard faintly in the background, a presumably unintended decoration that inevitably does flavor the final mix. Those readers who wish Bowles' chiseled prose to remain disembodied on the page may still want to add this disc to their libraries for the author's finer notes, which reflect on his kif-inspired experiment of “constructing stories whose subject matter would consist of disparate elements and unrelated characters taken directly from life and fitted together as a mosaic.” Bowles goes on to detail the stray observations that became pieces of the puzzle in three of the stories, and how for the remaining tale, the stunning “He of the Assembly,” he came up with a “pyramidal structure” of paragraphs told from different points of view.

Paul Bowles fiction is among the best of the century; that it can endure in voice as well as in print is a blessing.

— Eric Loberer


In 1960 Bowles began to experiment with the idea of constructing stories “whose subject matter would consist of disparate elements and unrelated characters taken directly from life and fitted together as in a mosaic.” Bowles made a list of incidents and situations he had either seen or heard that year, and divided these into four groups. By providing “kif directed motivations, [he] was able to use cannabis both as solvent and solder in the construction” of four stories, which are collected in A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard. Bowles, of course reads from his own work.

— Christopher Cox


The old proverb “A pipe of kif before breakfast gives a man the strength of a hundred camels in the courtyard” set Bowles off on a four-story sequence that delineated a land where cannabis, rather than alcohol, provided a way out of the phenomenological world. Camels was a window into a world where kif dreams proved the existence of magic and served as a valid means of communication.

In 1978 Jeffrey Miller commissioned a recording of Bowles reading his kif tales. Back then, Miller thought it unlikely that Bowles would return to America and that anyone else would propose the notion that Bowles' voice, reading some of his fictions, be preserved for future generations . . . and they were released on two records in 1981 as Paul Bowles Reads A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard. At the time Bowles was nearly forgotten, almost none of his books were in print, and the records became collectors' items as soon as the first pressing sold out.

But for us Bowles fanatics, the records have enjoyed a lingering fascination. Our master's voice, sibilant and whistling with age, reading the four legendary stories carried the inspirational authority of an old sage relating essential lore around the dying embers of a campfire in the Sahara. Something about hearing his kif tales rather than reading them carried the qualities of the kif high itself. The records were another way into the brilliance and clarity of Bowles' Moroccan visions and it was often frustrating not to be able to pass this along to friends newly come to Bowles' work.

Just before he died, this problem was solved by the new CD release of Paul Bowles Reads A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard. The results, with fine-tuning from producer Jon Carlson, are almost as pristine as if you were sitting in Paul's lounge in the Immeuble Itessa, a fire crackling in the hearth, a long sebsi Mrabet's Special Blend going around the room. Paul Bowles may be gone to an oasis far beyond the rolling dunes, but “A Friend of the World,” “The Wind at Beni Midar,” “He of the Assembly,” and “The Story of Lahcen and Idir” live on in Cadmus' wonderful CDs, complete with a fiery painting of the Dmaa el Fna in Marrakech by Brion Gysin. Take my word for it, they are worth the journey.

— Stephen Davis

THE BEAT, 19:1, 2000

Visit the authorized Paul Bowles web site here: www.PaulBowles.org

also by Paul Bowles
No eye looked out from any crevice
The Pelcari Project
She Woke Me Up So I Killed Her
Tennessee Williams in Tangier
Paul Bowles's musique concrète The Pool K III