Patagonia defies definition. It sits at the very end of a continent, nudges into the tumultuous Southern ocean, covers two countries and is a place of enigmas. It was a place that Brue Chatwin had longed to visit for years after seeing a piece of ‘brontosaurus’ in his grandparent’s curiosity cabinet. It wasn’t a piece of a dinosaur, but another part of an extinct animal that had been found in Patagonia.
The memory of it lived on in Chatwin’s imagination and was the spark that made him give up his job and head out there in 1974. The six months that he spent there, become this book. It is not about the landscape or the countries, rather Chatwin spends his time there meeting people, finding out about them and then following the gossamer threads of their lives from place to place and backwards and forwards in time.
To be honest, this wasn’t quite what I was expecting. It is often disjointed, it has some very short chapters, people only briefly appear in the narrative, before he heads off to the next location and snapshot of another life. And yet it is a wonderful piece of writing. Even though it is not about the place per se, Patagonia fully permeates the writing, you have a sense of the barrenness of the desert, the relentless wind off Tierra del Fuego, places that have attracted people from all over the world in search of the nomadic existence. He traces the characters backwards and forwards across this land but reveals as much about himself in his writing. Will try to get to Songlines a bit sooner than this now I have found a copy.