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The Songlines (Picador Books) Paperback – 10 Jun 1988

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 325 pages
  • Publisher: Picador, London; Reprint edition (10 Jun. 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330300822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330300827
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 966,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

The late Bruce Chatwin carved out a literary career as unique as any writer's in this century: his books included In Patagonia, a fabulist travel narrative, The Viceroy of Ouidah, a mock-historical tale of a Brazilian slave-trader in 19th century Africa, and The Songlines, his beautiful, elegiac, comic account of following the invisible pathways traced by the Australian aborigines. Chatwin was nothing if not erudite, and the vast, eclectic body of literature that underlies this tale of trekking across the outback gives it a resonance found in few other recent travel books. A poignancy, as well, since Chatwin's untimely death made The Songlines one of his last books. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"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) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Mr. David Cheshire on 25 July 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a unique and unclassifiable book, part novel, part travel book, part notebook full of quotations and speculations. Chatwin focuses on the notion that language and human thought began in songs that sang the landscape and living things into existence. Aboriginal culture continues this tradition in songlines which are explored as living entities, maps, boundaries, calendars, catalogues, survival systems, myths. Chatwin says the ultimate question he is asking is, why are humans so restless? He argues that this is the ultimate human quality. We are nomadic in our core. He quotes a European tramp: "It's like the tides were pulling you along the highway. I'm like the Arctic tern, guv'nor...what flies from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again." This book doesn't provide answers. Indeed it plunges into even wider speculations about war, prehistory, mythology and culture. But it goes far beyond the predictable "Aboriginal wisdom for the westerner" that I expected. A fascinating, difficult, but intriguing book.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mr Gary Davison on 9 Mar. 2004
Format: Paperback
I was recommended this book by several different people, if you are interested in the 'aboriginal' culture/travelling or you think you might be then this book is for you. Although it is classically written & occasionally quite heavy I found it very interesting. Bruce Chatwin goes on a journey to study the songlines and on the way he ponders the origin of man, presenting evidence that man was originally Nomadic & also writes 3/4 chapters worth of short passages taken from all over the globe to give atmosphere to this claim, one of the most amazing facts was that an aboriginal in the far north can understand an aboriginal from the far south without understanding his language, he translates the melodies of his songs & therefore knows which path he is walking & therefore where he is from, this book has been a great help in understanding more about the ancients in OZ for me, personal accounts of cultures are always more informative than text books I find & this book is no exception :-)
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 July 1999
Format: Paperback
The songlines criss cross Australia; the paths taken by the first men as they sang creation into being. Each Aborigine tends his section of the line, and must regularly sing the songs that keep creation new.
Chatwin's wanderings took him to Australia's red centre to explore the origins of these lines, as part of a project he was toying with (but never completed, so far as I'm aware) exploring the roots of man's incessant need to travel.
His prose is as sparse and dusty as the landscape itself as he meets the native and European Australians who inhabit the vast emptiness of the outback. The result is as beautiful and strange as the outback itself.
The book uncovers a little about the Aborigines, a group who have not been often explored in mainstream wirting before, as well as the racism felt by many Australians towards them.
But its main success is opening up the dusty interior itself - a place on a scale that is unimaginable to Europeans. Chatwin's triumph is to reveal the magic that pervades Australia - that a stagnant pond can be as important a spiritual site as Ayers Rock.
For anyone with an interest in Australia, Aboriginal culture or the nature of man's wanderlust, this is an essential read. Highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Frank Bierbrauer on 1 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
This book by Bruce Chatwin is a rare pleasure, written by a man truly interested in all the peoples of the world including their culture, language, arts and metaphysics. This time Chatwin went to Australia to attempt to understand the very complex system of Aboriginal religious structures called songlines. As far as I can see from this book songlines are the connections in song of one part of the country to another part, each practised by the people who live there with neighbours sharing the "song". Not only does this define their religion but it in fact recreates their land as well, a kind of pure ideality in the philosophcal sense.

The first parts of this book concentrate on Chatwin's experiences with the people of outback Australia be they Aboriginal or white. He seems to find truly remarkable people, each unique and even wild in their own way. Typical of Australia, it is full of people from all over the world, such as his friend Arkady of Russian extraction. Chatwin has a fascinating background with his experiences of other cultures often allowing him access to other, more conservative, people who are suspicious of the outsider. Using this technique he breaks down their resistance and writes with compassion and depth of his experiences. Unfortunately, two aspects come to light which I believe are not advantageous to the reading of the book. The first is his tendency to both promote and justify the practise of travelling or the nomadic lifestyle which he himself practises. The second is the habit of filling out the rest of the book with too many quotations from others rather than making use of his experiences with their beauty and uniqueness due to the meeting of people as he travels and the sense of the land which formed the backbone and pure joy of the earlier parts of the book.

Nonetheless an exceptional book and a joy to read. A very human book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mick Read on 24 April 2010
Format: Paperback
Chatwin's skill in conveying the experience of his travels, the breath of daily existence, is masterfully portrayed in The Songlines. The Songlines are the traditional pathways across Australia followed by aboriginals as they literally sing their way through their native country, passing from one tribal homeland to another, acknowleding the occupation rights of each whilst, in effect, securing safe passage by recounting their own ancestry. Chatwin exposes both the helpers and do-gooding hinderers of the Aborignal cause; those who inflate their own self esteem on the pretence of protecting them; those who simply exploit them for financial gain and those who really do have their best interests at heart. Meanwhile, in the background and threatening everything, is the potentially self-destructive nature of the aboriginals themselves.

Overlayed on Chatwin's inaugural excursion into Australia's unforgiving outback, experiencing the perils of simple survival in a land where nature and tribal custom override any outside influence, The Songlines is a wonderful evocation of a life few of us will have the opportunity to personally experience. The only slight negative for me was Chatwin's spell of reminiscing his travel notes from previous journeys. At first insightful into Chatwin and his life, this went on too long and became a little tedious.

Having recently read Remembering Babylon by David Malouf, Chatwin helps build a solid picture of life on another planet.
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