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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vivid Imagination and a Powerfully Bracing Landscape Makes for a Superb Travelogue
Published back in 1978, Bruce Chatwin's seamless mix of fact and fiction is still among the most enthralling of travel books. Prompted by a piece of reddish animal skin he found in his grandmother's curio cabinet when he was a child, the author ignites himself on a flight of fancy about its origin. This leads him to an expansive area of wild beauty, Patagonia on South...
Published on August 11, 2006 by Ed Uyeshima

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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "In Patagonia" doesn't live up to the hype.
Reviews of Bruce Chatwin's "In Patagonia" tend to gush emotionally about Chatwin's spare verse and quirky sketches of colorful characters. Others have claimed to have used his book as a guide while living in Patagonia. As much as Chatwin's now-famous travelogue offers pleasant reading, it still pales in comparison to other Patagonian travel books, including...
Published on November 5, 1997


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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vivid Imagination and a Powerfully Bracing Landscape Makes for a Superb Travelogue, August 11, 2006
This review is from: In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Published back in 1978, Bruce Chatwin's seamless mix of fact and fiction is still among the most enthralling of travel books. Prompted by a piece of reddish animal skin he found in his grandmother's curio cabinet when he was a child, the author ignites himself on a flight of fancy about its origin. This leads him to an expansive area of wild beauty, Patagonia on South America's southernmost tip. I have been lucky enough to visit this part of the world myself about four years ago, and I can confirm from my travels that Chatwin does an amazing job of capturing not only its physical splendor but its colorful inhabitants. However, this is no linear travel narrative, as the author breaks his stories down into mini-sections, ninety-seven in total.

Several of the episodes deal with his own experiences on the road and the individuals he encounters like the gauchos on the pampas, the Welsh-originated villagers, a French soprano, and a hippie from Haight-Ashbury looking for work in the mines. Interspersed with these accounts are snippets of history, real or imagined, such as an unknown connection between Magellan's expedition and Shakespeare's "The Tempest", the whereabouts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid after they left the states, and a 19th-century European lawyer who convinced the local Araucanian Indians to elect him their monarch. Chatwin shows particular gift for culling whimsical trivia into a greater storytelling context that is hard to resist as long as the reader is aware that little of it is verifiable. He inevitably ends the book the way he started - by finding the source of the animal scrap. Few writers have shown such a vivid imagination and a powerful sense of imagery as Chatwin has with his splendid travelogue. This will make those with an extreme case of wanderlust want to book their flights to Punta Arenas, Chile, right away.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down - I even read it under my desk at work, July 14, 1999
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
This is a wonderful collection of tall tales, fiction, fact and bizarre anecdotes, loosely connected by their association with a sparsely populated part of South America. Unfortunately critics and publishers in their obsessive need to categorise books, called it a Travel Book. This was misleading, as are the claims that he reinvented travel writing or had some sort of unique insight into Patagonia, its people, history and landscape. Chatwin was primarily a storyteller, not a travel writer or an expert on Southern Argentina. His talent for the 5-6 page yarn is unparalleled in modern literature and this is as good as anything he wrote.
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "In Patagonia" doesn't live up to the hype., November 5, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
Reviews of Bruce Chatwin's "In Patagonia" tend to gush emotionally about Chatwin's spare verse and quirky sketches of colorful characters. Others have claimed to have used his book as a guide while living in Patagonia. As much as Chatwin's now-famous travelogue offers pleasant reading, it still pales in comparison to other Patagonian travel books, including "Edward Chace, A Yankee in Patagonia." Chatwin also liberally hijacked ideas straight from previous authors, who made his journey and investigated the same people and subjects a full four or five decades before the publication of "In Patagonia." What's more, the locals down there (and a Ph.D candidate in Patagonia history I met on my journeys) hate Chatwin, claiming he was sloppy with his facts about their relatives. Chatwin's name in Patagonia is as popular as General Sherman's in Atlanta. So don't get overwhelmed by the Chatwin hype. Browse the Patagonian classics you'll find on most library shelves first, then reread this so-called masterpiece. Comparative shopping is worth the effort here.
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101 of 124 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A unique portrait of a unique land, March 4, 2005
This review is from: In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
In December 1947, Bruce Chatwin began a journey through Patagonia, a "vast, vague territory that encompasses 900,000 square kilometres of Argentina and Chile." As he wandered, Chatwin recorded the stories of the people he met and those who had gone before him; "fugitives of justice, regime change, or simply 'the coop of England.'" The result was In Patagonia, an instant classic that was described as "a law unto itself."

Thirty years later, I landed in Puerto Montt, Chile at the northwestern edge of Patagonia and started my own journey through that windswept country. I toted In Patagonia along with me as I traveled through Patagonia; resolving every few days to read it, only to put in down in favor of more entertaining books after the first few pages. Despite the book's inability to really grab my attention, I had this unshakable notion that if one has a book titled In Patagonia and one is, in fact, in Patagonia, one should read the book. (This was coupled with the fact that I had used precious cargo space to haul the book 6,000 miles from home and I was damn well going to make use of it.) It wasn't until the end of the journey, while bussing it across Patagonia, that I packed all of my books *except* In Patagonia in the backpack that was stored underneath of the bus. Upon arriving in Punta Arenas ten hours later, I still didn't like In Patagonia, but I had read over a hundred pages and felt honor bound to stick it out for the rest of the book.

Paul Theroux best sums up what I didn't like about In Patagonia: "How had he traveled from here to there? How had he met this or that person? Life was never so neat as Bruce made out." In Patagonia isn't Chatwin's account of his travels through Patagonia so much as it is a collection of biographic narratives of people who have nothing in common except their inhabitance in Patagonia. There is no sense of cohesion to the book. Chatwin bounces from the story of two long-dead bandits to the possible existence of a Patagonian unicorn to the struggles of an Haight-Ashbury Flower Child stranded in Argentina to a traditional Argentinean asado then returns to further exploits of the outlaws, leaving me slightly bewildered and lost.

Nor does Chatwin dwell on most of his tales. A few accounts, such as the self proclaimed King of Patagonia and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, earned multiple chapters, but most stories were no more that a brief sketch, confined to no more than a page. I know this was a conscious stylistic choice of Chatwin, but the snippets left me feeling unsatisfied and wondering what their point was.

While I wasn't overly impressed with Chatwin's style, the main reason I continued the read In Patagonia was because in between the snippets, there was some fascinating stories. In 1859, a French lawyer called Orélie-Antoine de Tounens declared himself king of Araucania and Patagonia, a kingdom that stretches from Latitude 42 South to Cape Horn and still maintains a court in exile in Paris. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fled to Patagonia to avoid arrest in the States, but reverted to a life of crime and pulled off several successful robberies before they supposedly died in a shoot-out in Bolivia. In Patagonia reveals "the Patagonian origin of Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, Darwin's theory of evolution, Shakespeare's Caliban, Dante's Hell, Conan Doyle's Lost World, Swift's Brobdignagians, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Even the Patagonian origin of Man himself." These stories propelled me through the dull bits to the end of the book.

Furthermore, my original assessment, that I should read In Patagonia while in Patagonia, was correct and there were times when I found myself nodding and agreeing with Chatwin's descriptions and assessments. In other parts, the thirty years between Chatwin's trip and mine had wrought profound changes and Chatwin's account and mine didn't remotely match up, demonstrating the political upheaval of South America in the latter part of the twentieth century.

There is also something thrilling about reading the story of town you're currently in or have just left. During my bus journey home, I changed busses in Puerto Natalas and spend the hour between my arrival and departure wandering around the town. I stopped at the town plaza as I walked back to the bus station. In the centre of the plaza was a raised dais with a train engine sitting atop it. Back on the bus, I read Chatwin's account of his trip to the town, which included the origins of the train:

"Puerto Natalas was a Red town ever since the meat-works opened up. The English built the meat-works during the First World War, four miles along the bay, where deep water ran inshore. They build a railway to bring the men to work; and when the place ran down, the citizens painted the engine and put it in the plaza - an ambiguous memorial."

Nicholas Shakespeare, who wrote the introduction to my copy of In Patagonia, described Chatwin saying, "Bruce Chatwin was always attracted to border countries: to places on the rim of the world, sandwiched ambiguously between cultures, neither one thing nor another." I am very much the same way and despite the negative aspects of In Patagonia, Chatwin did capture the wild, untamed abandon that is my Patagonia.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seeking some skin, September 2, 2001
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
How many children become adults fulfilling a childhood dream by visiting remote places?
Bruce Chatwin, driven by memories of his grandfather's strange artifact, takes us with him to
the farthest reaches of South America. His travels in that mysterious realm result in this
masterfully done account of journeys in Patagonia - southern Argentina and Chile. It's not an
exaggeration to praise this work as the first to supplement Darwin's. Both sought fossils,
although Chatwin's pursuit is rather more specific. Both described the land, the people and
events in the most captivating and readable manner. A rare treasure in travel literature, this
book is a timeless treasure.
Patagonia has been a haven for many European nationalities besides the Spanish. British,
Welsh, Scots and the Germans have found refuge and opportunities here. Chatwin
encounters a wide spectrum of the inhabitants. By touring on foot, bus and horse, as well as
obtaining the occasional lift, he is able to garner intense impressions. Lacing the account of
what he observes with numerous piquant historical side notes, he imparts the place along
with the spirit of the residents. The history varies as the land itself. Rising from the Atlantic
across a vast plain until reaching the rising slopes of the "back" of the Andes, Patagonia offers
incredible vistas and diversity. Decades of building immense rancheros and farms have been
punctuated by social and political upheavals. Chatwin recounts the lives of many of the
rebels and how they impacted the pampas scene. His literary capacity seems as vast as the
territory. We even encounter The Ancient Mariner. There are no dull moments in this book.
Chatwin's presents a more knowledgeable view in discussing aboriginal people than that of
most travel writers. There's nothing patronizing in his tone as he tries to address their plight.
"Tries to" because European intrusion has left so little for researchers of indigenous cultures to
address. He cites the expressive terms in the Yamana language to point out how culturally
inept the colonizing powers have been. We learn to use the term "primitive" with caution.
Millennia of residence gained the original peoples skills the Europeans disparaged, often to
their regret. It's becoming a familiar story, made sadder at the realization the loss of cultures
swept away by colonization.
At the end, his original quest brings him to a cave visited by Charley Milward, wrecked ship's
captain. He cannot replace the artifact Milward left in Chatwin's grandmother's house, but
there is other compensation. That the quest isn't a failure adds further lustre to an incredible
journey. But what Chatwin has gained is as nothing compared to what he's given us. This
book will remain a classic for years to come.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An old favorite., September 29, 2008
By 
frumiousb "frumiousb" (Amsterdam, the Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a re-read for me. I actually gave my copy to my partner years and years ago when we were in that relationship stage where you try to prove your meant-to-be-ness to each other by sharing books and music. I figured that since we both loved travel writing and we both had a dream of visiting Argentina, then Bruce Chatwin was a safe bet. (He's been a favorite writer of mine since falling in love with his work through the film version of Utz.)

I couldn't have been more off-base. He read it all right, but he really didn't like it. I think that I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that it actively irritated him. Since then he's tried a couple more times to read Chatwin, each one a failure. That remains the Dividing Line of Travel Writers for us-- I like eccentric people who talk about characters and odd history. B. wants to read about the beauty of the landscape and the things that a person can do while visiting. We have an awful lot of Meant-To-Be-Ness in other ways, but not travel writing, apparently.

Anyhow. I loved it. As I loved it the first time. I like the character of Chatwin as he meanders across the scene. I enjoy the way that he meditates on the people and on the history that affects their and his lives. I find that the loose way that he ties everything together works very well for me. I love and share his love of walking, and what that teaches you about where you are.

We have not yet made it to Argentina as a couple, but when we go, I'll be clutching this book under my arm. Recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where the Jumblies Live, May 24, 2004
By 
Sirin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
I was browsing the shelves of the travel section of a large bookshop recently. 'In Patagonia' appealed to me for three reasons. Firstly, I am planning a long trip to South America and am keen to read any writing covering that area. Secondly, I was captivated by Paul Theroux's comment on the back cover of the Vintage edition that Bruce Chatwin has found a remote place 'like the Land where the Jubmlies live'. I love eccentric people and places. Thirdly, I was intrigued by the pictures in the centre of the book - a corrugated iron hut on wheels, a run down station in the middle of nowhere, a set of hand prints on a cave wall and other peculiar and whimsical images relating to the places Chatwin visited on his travels and the stories he collected on the way. For these reasons, I had to read it.
What emerges is an extraordinary chronicle of the nomadic wanderings of Chatwin during his six month trip to Patagonia (he quit his job at the Sunday Times in order to go there). He begins by describing how he was curious to find out more about a curious beast, of which his grandmother had a fragment of skin, but soon becomes waylaid by a bizzarre succession of people and stories that build upon each other as the book progresses like a ramshackle house of cards.

It is the stories that form the essence of the book. There is description of the geography and physical characteristics of the region but only in brief passages as a setting to another piece of Patagonian folklore. Chatwin clearly has an ear for a good story and an almost dilletante, enquiring mind. Also, in the manner of a skilled raconteur, he is frequently economical with the truth in order to include his own even better facts. Thus the book is a fascinating conglomerate of part travel writing, part sociology, part history, part anthropology and part fiction.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reaing quirky, original and imaginative travel writing.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cast not thy pearls before penguins...., February 24, 2000
By 
Jeff Bricker (Columbus, Ohio USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
IN PATAGONIA is, simply put, two hundred pages of crisp, elegant, and enjoyable prose. This is a rare thing. This book is not a travel guide a la Fodor's nor is it a piece of journalism. Some of the reviewers below hold this against Mr. Chatwin. I suspect most potential readers will not.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Patagonian Encounters, March 23, 2001
By 
Nina Lovatt (Greenwich,CT,USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
I have read and re-read this book many times and find Chatwin's writing both lyrical and staccato in style. His short sharp chapters are rather like dots on a giant dot-to-dot canvas that he never joins up....he's deliberately teasing us by leaving out detail and prompting your own imagination to fill in the blanks on his Patagonian canvas. But the real heart of the book is Chatwin's encounters with both ordinary and extraordinary people who have made the "Southern Most" part of the world their home. I particularly enjoy his use of colors in his description of people and his boyish passion for adventures and heroes. This is not a travel book in the true sense of the genre, however, through each encounter with a new person you can begin to feel for yourself through their own stories the isolation,the landscapes and the adventures waiting for you in this remote part of the world. If you want to understand Chatwin as an artist get hold of a copy of his book of photographs and notebooks and you begin to understand that "In Patogonia" is really a series of 'portraits" hanging in a gallery rather then a travel book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More interesting than informative., January 28, 2005
By 
This review is from: In Patagonia (Paperback)
Depending on what you look for in a "travel" book you may or may not like this. If you're looking for history, natural history, or political developments, this is not the book for you. It is not comprehensive in any way.

If you're looking for entertaining reading set in an interesting location with snippets of odd information this book would be entertaining. Of travel authors I have read, this author most closely resembles Theroux, but without the curmudgeonly judging. Like Theroux, his facts may or may not be correct but he doesn't claim to be writing a textbook, just some stuff that happened to him in this place.

Mercifully, Chatwin spares us deep philosphical introspections so prevalent in much modern "travel" writing.

I read it and enjoyed it and recommend it.
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In Patagonia (Penguin Classics)
In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) by Bruce Chatwin (Paperback - Mar. 2003)
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