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What Am I Doing Here? Paperback – August 1, 1990

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What Am I Doing Here? + In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) + The Songlines
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is the last of Bruce Chatwin's works to be published while he was still alive (he penned the introduction in 1988, a few months before he died). It's a collection of Chatwin gems--profiles, essays, and travel stories that span the world, from trekking in Nepal and sailing down the Volga to working on a film with Werner Herzog in Ghana and traveling with Indira Gandhi in India. Chatwin excels, as usual, in the finely honed tale.

From Publishers Weekly

Whether he is cruising down the Volga, gauging the effects of French colonialism in Algeria or searching for the Yeti ("Abominable Snowman") in the Himalayas, Chatwin, who died recently, exudes natural curiosity and a nose for adventure. By the author of In Patagonia and The Songlines , this mosaic of travelogues, profiles, semi-fictionalized stories and fragments is an endless feast, rich in small discoveries and larger perceptions of the world. In India, Chatwin investigates the case of a "wolf-boy" who survived years living in the wild. In Hong Kong he meets a geomancer, who determines the best site for a building or a marriage bed by aligning it with the Earth's "dragon-lines." There are pieces on art auctioneering, nomads, Afghanistan, a California LSD guru who thinks he's the Savior, power politics in ancient China. There are also perceptive encounters with filmmaker Werner Herzog, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Indira Gandhi, Andre Malraux, couturier Madeleine Vionnet and many others.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140115773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140115772
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.8 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Bruce Chatwin reinvented British travel writing with his first book, In Patagonia, and followed it with many travel books and novels, each unique and extraordinary. He died in 1989.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By G. Benett on August 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Bruce Chatwin knew he was dying of "a rare Chinese fungus" - posthumously revealed to be AIDS - when he assembled this collection of highly personal stories and articles, most of which had already appeared in print. At first I found the book's seemingly random selection frustrating, but began to enjoy it once I stopped looking for a message. "What Am I Doing Here?" is no swan song. Its 1st-person narratives are snapshots from a creative life interrupted, as if in the middle of a question.
More than Chatwin's other books this one is about personalities. He was a grand walker and a literary nomad, so region and landscape play a quintessential role throughout. But the travelogue is backdrop. Each of the book's 35 vignettes reveals an exchange between Chatwin and a personality he connected with. Some of them are famous - Andre Malraux, Werner Herzog, Diana Vreeland - while others, more obscure, get an affectionate introduction:
"Howard Hodgkin is an English painter whose brilliantly colored and basically autobiographical pictures, done both with bravura and with anxiety, fall into none of the accepted categories of modern art."
Or: "Madeleine Vionnet is an alert and mischevious old lady of ninety-six with eighty-six years of practical experience in the art of dressmaking."
Or again: "Maria Reiche is a tall, almost skeletal, German mathematician and geographer who has spent about half her seventy-two years in the Peruvian desert surveying the archaeological monument known as the 'Nazca lines'."
In the end, the only common thread in "What Am I Doing Here?" is Chatwin himself, observing, interviewing, questioning.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Mark Thornburg on December 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
I've always thought to myself that when I'm getting close to death and I look back on my life, there's one thing I'll want. At this point, I don't particularly care about money, or love, or having kids or anything like that. But when I die, I want to look back on what I did throughout life, and think: Holy cow. My life was so INTERESTING!
When Bruce Chatwin died in '88, there is no doubt that he fulfilled that same goal. His life was undeniably fascinating, and this book is snippets of it. 35 stories, each concerning different people or places, and all of them are riveting.
Chatwin covered an incredible amount of ground throughout his life, and the book gives one a minor snapshot of some of those places. It feels like someone were interviewing him about his life, and just asked the broad question: So, what were your favorite experiences?
I lacked the necessary background in art history to fully appreciate a lot of his stories (he being an art connoisseur), but even with little to no knowledge of such things, Chatwin's book was fascinating; he makes you care about what he cares about, whether you did before or not.
When I finished the book, I put it down and immediately wanted another one just like it. Undoubtedly Chatwin had more stories to tell, but the general public will have to be satisfied with his own self-selected highlights from a fascinating life.
I really can't recommend this book highly enough, especially for people who like to travel, or particularly like art or history.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Sirin on December 22, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is Bruce Chatwin's dying opus. He edited the pieces in What Am I Doing Here (a quote from one of Rimbaud's letters, writing home from Egypt) whilst weak, fevered and dying from AIDS in 1988. It is the first and best of the collections of Chatwin's shorter writings, composed of articles written when writing for the Sunday Times Magazine in the early 1970s, other newspaper articles, Granta contributions and other miscellaneous pieces.

This compendium, arguably more than any of his other travel books and novels, gives a good insight into the complex and fascinating life Chatwin lived, always in pursuit of the bizzare, the exotic, the beautiful and a good story. Chatwin's writings cover themes as dispirate as travel, art, politics, people and literature. Always discussed in a terse, erudite style that became his trademark. The breadth and depth of Chatwin's knowledge is incredible, thus these writings are not the most accessible. Some appreciation of art history, literature and anthropology for example is necessary to comprehend some of the more esoteric pieces in the collection.

Readers who give Chatwin the time will be able to unravel a wealth of brilliantly illuminated stories. From personal tales about family members, meetings with fabulously well connected and artistic people - such as George Costakis the Soviet art collector and Madeline Vionnet the French dressmaker, descriptions of his travels to far flung places - Patagonia, Afghanistan, China, searching for yeti in the Himalayas - the list goes on, one never fails to marvel at the rich tapestry that comprised Chatwin's life. Certainly, he lived a life about as far from the mundane as it is possible to get.
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