The Songlines

The Songlines

Paperback Vintage Classics

By (author) Bruce Chatwin

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  • Publisher: VINTAGE
  • Format: Paperback | 304 pages
  • Dimensions: 130mm x 196mm x 22mm | 118g
  • Publication date: 1 February 2010
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0099769913
  • ISBN 13: 9780099769910
  • Sales rank: 12,460

Product description

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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Author information

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.

Review quote

"That Chatwin is one of the most distinct and original writers we have is confirmed by the publication of another quite remarkable book" -- Nicholas Shakespeare "The songlines emerge as invisible pathways connecting up all over Australia: ancient tracks made of songs which tell of the creation of the land. The Aboriginals' religious duty is ritually to travel the land, singing the Ancestors' songs: singing the world into being afresh. The Songlines is one man's impassioned song" -- David Sexton Sunday Telegraph "Chatwin is not simply describing another culture; he is also making cautious assertions about human nature. Towards the end of his life Sartre wondered why people still write novels; had he read Chatwin's he might have found new excitement in the genre" -- Edmund White Sunday Times "Chatwin delves into aspects of landscape that are beyond road signs and highways, and into a way of living that is entirely alien to the average European... those who are open to a bit of a wander will adore it" Evening Herald

Editorial reviews

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)