The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, 4/5
A semi-fictitious scholar named Bruce (who, in sharing the author’s name, not-so-clearly provides literary license) explores the concept of “Songlines” or “Dreaming-tracks,” a musical interpretation of geography by which Aboriginal Australians understand the creation of the world and their place in it. Vivid characters and landscapes, described in short paragraphs with Chatwin’s succinct prose, have the power to transport the reader almost as surely as any vehicle to foreign lands.
Why I read it: I recognized the title in the thriftstore from reading Chatwin’s In Patagonia.
Short, vignette-like chapters relating Chatwin’s Patagonian travel experiences are loosely, but satisfyingly, tied together by his interest in the extinct mylodon (Giant Ground Sloth), the fate of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang, and the life of his sailor uncle, Charley Milward. Chatwin’s keen eye for observation, appreciation of what makes a good story, and concise writing style result in an entertaining work that has literary merit beyond that which armchair travellers generally require.
[Why I read it: the title caught my eye as I browsed books in the thrift store (Patagonia has good connotations for me because of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle).]