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Description - The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

The songlines are the invisible pathways that criss-cross Australia, ancient tracks connecting communities and following ancient boundaries. Along these lines Aboriginals passed the songs which revealed the creation of the land and the secrets of its past. In this magical account, Chatwin recalls his travels across the length and breadth of Australia seeking to find the truth about the songs and unravel the mysteries of their stories.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099769910
ISBN-10: 0099769913
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 19mm)
Pages: 304
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 28-Nov-1998
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Book Reviews - The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

UK Kirkus Review » The author couldn't give an account of a trip to the shops without some fantastic embroidering of mundane reality. This blend of myth, observation and outright invention is less an account of Aboriginal mythology than an excuse for the author to let rip. Travel writing has never been the same. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Chatwin, British author of books that blend travel, memoir, history, and philosophy (In Patagonia, The Viceroy of Ouidah), now goes to Alice Springs, Australia - for an investigation into Aboriginal culture, run-ins with assorted Aussies, and a fragmented meditation on larger anthropological issues. Chatwin's inquiry focuses on the Aboriginal "songlines": a labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia, the routes taken (according to Creation myths) by legendary totemic beings as they sang the world into existence. Each clan has its own elaborate, largely secret story-song, linked to a particular animal-totem; and the "songlines," which include numerous sacred sites, give rise to complex taboos and rituals (e.g., the "walkabout"). So Chatwin mostly tags along with Arkady, son of Russian immigrants - a local "Do-Gooder" among the Aboriginals who's been hired by railway officialdom to help prevent the desecration of sacred sites (invisible to white eyes) during railway construction. And, in and around the Outback via Land Rover, there are encounters with a wide range of quirky sorts: unpleasant redneck racists (the ugly flip-side of Crocodile Dundee); Aboriginal artists in the totem genre, with their white agents (one zesty, one greedy); sophisticated Aboriginal activists, arguing land-claims against the Church and mine-owners; even a teen-age rock-group - part-Aboriginal - whose first big concert has to be scheduled around circumcision/initiation rites. Though individually fascinating, however, these vignettes never accumulate shape, drama, or even much weight. In the book's second half, in fact, the pokey narrative more or less fades away - as Chatwin offers almost 100-pp. worth of disjointed notes taken for a book on mankind's essential nomadic quality. There are quotations from Pascal, Buber, the Bible, Darwin, etc. There are anecdotes from Chatwin's travels in India, South Africa, Mauritania, Niger, Afghanistan, China, and London (lunch with a worldly panhandler). Chatwin muses on evolution and war, arguing - not very persuasively - that man's basic nature is migratory, defensive, not aggressive (contra K. Lorenz and others). And though this idealized view of nomadic life is also seen in the Aboriginals (who are sometimes romanticized), the interplay of theme and specific subject-matter is awkward, blurry, repetitious. The least satisfying of Chatwin's explorations, then, but occasionally provocative in its ambitious reach - and crisply, vividly engaging as long as it sticks to first-hand Australia reportage. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin was born in Sheffield in 1940. After attending Marlborough School he began work as a porter at Sotheby's. Eight years later, having become one of Sotheby's youngest directors, he abandoned his job to pursue his passion for world travel. Between 1972 and 1975 he worked for the Sunday Times, before announcing his next departure in a telegram: 'Gone to Patagonia for six months.' This trip inspired the first of Chatwin's books, In Patagonia, which won the Hawthornden Prize and the E.M.Forster Award and launched his writing career. Two of his books have been made into feature films: The Viceroy of Ouidah (retitled Cobra Verde), directed by Werner Herzog, and Andrew Grieve's On the Black Hill. On publication The Songlines went straight to No.1 in the Sunday Times bestseller list and remained in the top ten for nine months. On the Black Hill won the Whitbread First Novel award while his novel Utz was nominated for the 1988 Booker prize. He died in January 1989, aged forty-eight.

Books By Bruce Chatwin

Songlines: Moleskine Special Edition by Bruce Chatwin
Hardback, June 2017
Visit to Don Otavio by Bruce Chatwin
Paperback / softback, June 2016
Under The Sun by Bruce Chatwin
Paperback, September 2011
John Pawson by Bruce Chatwin
Paperback, September 2004