Introduced by William Dalrymple
Described by the Guardian as ‘the book that redefined travel writing’, Chatwin’s idiosyncratic account of Patagonia thrums with surprising details and literary finesse. Featuring 22 photographs by the author, 9 of which are previously unpublished.
As a child, Bruce Chatwin was fascinated by a curio in his grandmother’s china cabinet – a piece of supposed brontosaurus hide, brought home by a relative at the end of the 19th century. The alleged dinosaur (which turned out to be a giant sloth) had been found sticking out of the ice in Patagonia, and for Chatwin it sparked a lifelong fascination with the place. In 1974 he abandoned his career at The Sunday Times and, as he put it, ‘ran away to South America’ – the result was the highly original, witty and enigmatic In Patagonia.
‘I pictured a low timber house with a shingled roof, caulked against storms, with blazing log fires inside and the walls lined with all the best books, somewhere to live when the rest of the world blew up’
The book marked a turning away from the approach traditionally taken by travel writers. Rather than a linear narrative of exploration and pedestrian description, its elegant literary style created something unusual and unorthodox; a story told almost in vignettes, bound up with the personality of the author. Chatwin described Patagonia as ‘a symbol of restlessness’, a magnet for oddballs and fugitives, and in a series of short, vivid chapters he explores the stories of the wildly varied inhabitants of the region: the Welsh farmers who established a community there in the 1860s, the Russian doctors, the sheep farmers and the gauchos, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who reputedly spent their last days in Patagonia.
‘Puckish and witty, dazzlingly experimental, it revolutionised travel writing’
Chatwin was also a talented photographer, collecting images that captured the beautiful and often unexpected highlights of his journey. For this edition, we have sourced 22 photographs by Chatwin, 9 of which have never been published before. Travel writer William Dalrymple, whose In Xanadu chronicled his expedition to the site of Kubla Khan’s legendary palace, has provided a warm and perceptive introduction, describing Chatwin as ‘a great showy Bird of Paradise amid the grey sparrows of the present English literary scene’.
Bruce Chatwin (1940–89) was a travel writer and an elegant literary craftsman and storyteller. As a young man, he abandoned a stellar career at the auction firm Sotheby’s to study archaeology and to travel. His first book, In Patagonia (1977), won the Hawthornden Prize and the E. M. Forster Award and launched his writing career. His wanderlust took him to many remote corners of the world – Timbuktu, Cameroon, Niger, China, Pakistan and the Sudan, to name but a few – but in his short career, Chatwin produced only four other books: a travel book, The Songlines (1987), a search for the meaning of the ancient ‘dreaming tracks’ of the Aborigines, and three novels, The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980), On the Black Hill (1982) and Utz (1988) which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. His essays and travel stories are collected in What Am I Doing Here (1988) and Anatomy of Restlessness (1996).
‘Chatwin remains the master: he stands like a great showy Bird of Paradise amid the grey sparrows of the present English literary scene’
William Dalrymple is the author of nine books about India and the Islamic world, including City of Djinns (Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Prize), White Mughals (Wolfson Prize for History and SAC Scottish Book of the Year Prize), The Last Mughal (Duff Cooper Prize and Vodafone Award for Non-Fiction) and Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Asia House Literary Award). His latest book, Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan 1839–42, was published in 2012 and won the Hemingway Prize and was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper and PEN Hessel-Tiltman History Prize. He writes regularly for the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books and the Guardian, and is one of the founders and a co-director of the Jaipur Literary Festival.
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