Let It Come Down greatly reinforced Bowles’s reputation as a consummate “writer’s writer,” a craftsman who could capture the ambiguity, tenor, and dangerous fascination of developing foreign countries. This novel, his second, has as its setting Tangier, Morocco, prior to its loss of International Zone status in the early 1950’s. Like many locales featured in Bowles’s novels and stories, Tangier appears dirty, divided (into a slovenly native sector and a prosperous Western one), and sinister as a haven for drug addicts and smugglers. The physical division mirrors a political, economic, cultural, and spiritual division, for the city represents not only Moorish Morocco but also the whole Muslim culture of Africa. Its streets wind sinuously, like intricate designs in the mosaics of the sultan’s palace, and the city echoes to the sounds of distant calls to prayer from minarets.
To Bowles, Muslim Tangier has a mysterious presence lacking in the Christian part of town; in a sense, it defies Western understanding. The isolation of people seems, to outsiders, more intense than it is in the cities of the West, and death hovers closer. The smells of Tangier are a violent assault: a mixture of garbage, urine, open-air meat and vegetable stands, and the perfume from exotic plants. Bowles’s old Tangier, a city behind walls, retains the imprint of past conquerors, both Phoenician and Arab. Europeans have also left an impression upon the city, bringing with them what the author sees as a dangerous materialism represented by seedy, neon-lit night spots, big cars, and drunken, raucous public conduct. To Bowles, this new Tangier has a soullessness about it, its bourgeois comforts partially protecting Westerners from thoughts of death and destruction.
Let It Come Down tells the story of Nelson Dyar, a former New York City bank clerk. A self-acknowledged loser, misfit, and victim, Dyar spends the first half of the novel trying to lay claim to a beautiful, illiterate peasant girl, the prostitute Hadija. Hadija, however, is also pursued by another American expatriate living in Tangier, Eunice Goode, a lesbian who (like Dyar) has enough money to get by without doing much work. Goode (her surname as much an intended pun as Dyar’s) is furious over Dyar’s “interference” in her life; she intends to possess Hadija totally and make her a kind of slave. She plans to involve Dyar with a known Soviet agent, Madame Jouvenon—and the plan works. Goode suggests to Jouvenon that she enlist Dyar’s services, as he, as an American living in Tangier, is bound to have contacts valuable to Soviet spymasters. Jouvenon, convinced, easily manages to convince the bankrupt Dyar to betray his country by offering him regular paychecks in exchange for information.
Goode calls the American Legation of Tangier and informs them of Dyar’s perfidy. No immediate steps are taken to apprehend him, and events keep him from being...
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