Bruce Chatwin

Easton Press Bruce Chatwin books

In Patagonia - 1977

Franklin Library Bruce Chatwin books

The Songlines - signed first edition - 1987


Bruce Chatwin biography

Bruce Chatwin, born on May 13, 1940, in Sheffield, England, was a celebrated English travel writer and novelist, renowned for his unique narrative style, wanderlust spirit, and profound insights into nomadic cultures. He emerged as a literary force in the late 20th century, leaving an indelible mark on the genre of travel literature. Chatwin's early career was marked by his work in the art world. He began his professional life at Sotheby's auction house, eventually becoming a director. However, his passion for exploration and storytelling led him to shift gears and pursue a career in writing.

In 1977, Chatwin published his groundbreaking debut, In Patagonia. The book chronicled his travels in the region of Patagonia, blending fact and fiction in a manner that became characteristic of his work. In Patagonia not only established Chatwin as a distinctive voice in travel literature but also garnered critical acclaim for its evocative prose and exploration of the human desire for movement and discovery. His subsequent works, including The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980), On the Black Hill (1982), and The Songlines (1987), further solidified his reputation as a master storyteller. The Songlines, in particular, delved into the Aboriginal cultures of Australia and the significance of the land's spiritual dimensions, earning Chatwin the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction.

Bruce Chatwin's writing style was marked by a poetic and introspective quality, blending travelogue with elements of fiction and cultural anthropology. His nomadic lifestyle and fascination with wanderlust were reflected not only in his work but also in his personal life. Chatwin was known for his eclectic tastes, ranging from literature and art to anthropology and archaeology.

Bruce Chatwin's cause of death

Tragically, Bruce Chatwin's life was cut short when he succumbed to AIDS on January 18, 1989, at the age of 48. Despite his relatively brief literary career, his impact on travel writing endures, and his works continue to inspire readers and writers alike. Chatwin's legacy is one of exploration, curiosity, and a profound understanding of the human connection to the world through the lens of travel.

The Songlines

In this extraordinary book, Bruce Chatwin has adapted a literary form common until the eighteenth century though rare in ours; a story of ideas in which two companions, traveling and talking together, explore the hopes and dreams that animate both them and the people they encounter. Set in almost uninhabitable regions of Central Australia, The Songlines asks and tries to answer these questions: Why is man the most restless, dissatisfied of animals? Why do wandering people conceive the world as perfect whereas sedentary ones always try to change it? Why have the great teachers Christ or the Buddha recommended the Road as the way. to salvation? Do we agree with Pascal that all man's troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room?

We do not often ask these questions today for we commonly assume that living in a house is normal and that the wandering life is aberrant. But for more than twenty years Chatwin has mulled over the possibility that the reverse might be the case.

Pre-colonial Australia was the last landmass on earth peopled not by herdsmen, farmers, or city dwellers, but by hunter-gatherers. Their labyrinths of invisible pathways across the continent are known to us as Songlines or Dreaming Tracks, but to the Aboriginals as the tracks of their ancestors the Way of the Law. Along these "roads" they travel in order to perform all those activities that are distinctively human song, dance, marriage, exchange of ideas, and arrangements of territorial boundaries by agreement rather than force.

In Chatwin's search for the Songlines, Arkady is an ideal friend and guide: Australian by birth, the son of a Cossack exile, with all the strength and warmth of his inheritance. Whether hunting kangaroo from a Land Cruiser, talking to the diminutive Rolf in his book-crammed trailer, buying drinks for a bigoted policeman (and would-be writer), cheering as Arkady's true love declares herself (part of The Songlines is a romantic comedy), Chatwin turns this almost implausible picaresque adventure into something approaching the scale of a Greek tragedy.

The life of the Aboriginals stands in vivid contrast, of course, to the prevailing cultures of our time. And The Songlines presents unforgettable details about the kinds of disputes we know all too well from less traumatic confrontations: over sacred lands invaded by railroads, mines, and construction sites, over the laws and rights of a poor people versus a wealthy invasive one. To Chatwin these are but recent, local examples of an eternal basic distinction between settlers and wanderers. His book, devoted to the latter, is a brilliant evocation of this profound optimism: that man is by nature not a bellicose aggressor but a pacific, song-creating, adaptive species whose destiny is to quest for the truth.

In Patagonia

An exhilarating look at a place that still retains the exotic mystery of a far-off, unseen land, Bruce Chatwin’s exquisite account of his journey through Patagonia teems with evocative descriptions, remarkable bits of history, and unforgettable anecdotes. Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a singular gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through “the uttermost part of the earth” that stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome in search of almost forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy. An instant classic upon its publication in 1977, In Patagonia is a masterpiece that has cast a long shadow upon the literary world.

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