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In Patagonia (Penguin Classics) Paperback – March 25, 2003
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Fascinated by Patagonia since an early childhood lust for Grandma's scrap of hairy Giant Sloth skin, Chatwin's also intrigued by odd miners and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy in Cholila. In 1977 the London Observer called it "a brilliant travel book," and while Chatwin's no longer alive (he died in 1989), his book still glows. From Rio Negro to the southernmost town of Ushuaia, Chatwin depicts all in writing as spare as the Patagonian desert itself, and as vibrant as the purple clouds off Last Hope Sound. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
“A book to stand on the shelf with Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, and Paul Theroux.” —The New York Times Book Review“Bruce Chatwin joins the ranks of the great British travel writers with In Patagonia.” —The Washington Post
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An artifact belonging to his family provides the gravity that pulls him to the southern reaches of South America. He realizes from the beginning the artifact is likely apocryphal, but that becomes an essential element to the story as it lends a fantastical air to the voyage, as if he's visiting some storybook land. You have to remind yourself as you're reading this that it is a very real, but very exotic, place.
During the course of reading this, it struck me that Chatwin spends little time describing the physical surroundings, which is odd considering this is known to be a region of breathtaking, albeit stark, beauty. When contrasted with his careful depictions of the people, it dawned on me the essence of Patagonia that he conveys here is the hardscrabble people who have come here looking for a better life and found backbreaking toil and harsh conditions. A couple of generations of that produces a distinctive populace and you then realize, for all it's beauty, Patagonia is less a place than a mentality. Fiercely independent, weathered and cragged could be used interchangeably to describe the place or the people.
Gone to Patagonia! How often have we on a day-dreamy kind of afternoon wanted to make the same journey? Patagonia is a region whose struggles and eccentricities are richly woven into the historical fabric of the South American continent. In modern times, Patagonia has been the refuge of scoundrels, outlaws, misfits of all kinds and individuals orphaned by time or by fate.
Nicholas Shakespeare’s introduction to the book is excellent and the book itself is one you will never forget. I read it this time for pleasure but will read it again someday to unravel some of its mysteries. There are too many names and dates and places to absorb on a first encounter with “In Patagonia.”
If you haven’t read it—do yourself a favor. Put aside that book that is boring you and read about this place called Patagonia which lies at the very ends of the Earth.
Reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” and William Least-Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways,” Chatwin’s “In Patagonia” will grip you and never let you go.