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The Songlines (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

Bruce Chatwin
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

3 Dec 1998 Vintage Classics
The songlines are the invisible pathways that criss-cross Australia, ancient tracks connecting communities and following ancient boundaries. Along these lines Aboriginals passed the songs which revealed the creation of the land and the secrets of its past. In this magical account Chatwin recalls his travels across the length and breadth of Australia seeking to find the truth about the songs and unravel the mysteries of their stories.

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The Songlines (Vintage Classics) + In Patagonia (Vintage Classics) + What Am I Doing Here? (Vintage classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Classics; New Ed edition (3 Dec 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8129130025
  • ISBN-13: 978-8129130020
  • ASIN: 0099769913
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 12.8 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,676 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.


"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)

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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wandering star 19 July 1999
By A Customer
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The human tide 25 July 2007
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Communicating through song 9 Mar 2004
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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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This story is not really an edited book, rather a conversation with a dusty traveller whom you have met on an isolated rural railway station, somewhere far away, with two days until the next train. It starts as something to pass the time, but becomes a tale of the global history of Man, revealing many reasons for doing what we do - or having done what we have done. It makes us question the values that our civilisation has socialised us into believing in, not because we envy the squalid freedom of the aborigines, but because we must envy that they still understand the nature of Nature, and the nature of Man, and also of Man in Nature.. Sometimes it asks questions and answers them, and sometimes it gives an answer and you are left searching for the question. A book to be read alone, without distraction, when you have time to read it without laying it down. An memorable book which can be used to find some answers to many problems in the world today, whether they be related to religious divergence, racism, ethnic conflict, suppression of minorities, environmental conflicts, etc., etc., etc..
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Personalised Outback experience 24 April 2010
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a slow read, interesting characters and ...
A bit of a slow read, interesting characters and very informative on the Aborigine culture. It feels quite a masculine book, not a lot of emotion involved.
Published 1 month ago by yumscrumdiddly
5.0 out of 5 stars A very short History of the Skyscraper
"I am an intellectual sort of chap and think of things that would astonish you," as W S Gilbert's sentry sang to us in 'Iolanthe'. Read more
Published 7 months ago by James Church
5.0 out of 5 stars My mum's favourite
This was a present for my mum, as she lost her copy. I haven'nt read it but all I know from her is that this book is unique, beautifully written and one of her favourites.
Published 11 months ago by Race
3.0 out of 5 stars is Chatwin really that great?
Having started In Patagonia and not found the content of the book really that engaging, I started The Songlines thinking this is a bit more accessible and enjoyable. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Mr. Robert Marsland
4.0 out of 5 stars very good
It is in a great condition for a vintage book.Arrived on time haven`t read it yet so I cannot review the content.
Published 15 months ago by bikic
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, irritating style
The Songlines is part Australian travelogue, part account of the aboriginal (although the book eventually discounts that word) songlines, part personal philosophy, part... Read more
Published 15 months ago by P. G. Harris
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read
Strange book, but worth reading. Gives a good insight into the clash of native v. 'white' culture' in the outback.
Published 19 months ago by Mark Twigg
3.0 out of 5 stars Please tell me more about the songlines
Based on comments I'd heard about the book previously, when I began reading I expected a very dry and difficult prose, but I actually found it a very easy read and got into it... Read more
Published on 22 Jun 2012 by neverendings
3.0 out of 5 stars Good writing, a bit dated
The book is called a "classic," perhaps rightly so, but feels dated now. Australia has changed greatly in the years since Chatwin visited and did his "research. Read more
Published on 7 Oct 2011 by Lewis White
3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre
This is an interesting topic and I was looking forward to learning more but I have not found the written style very easy to follow or get into. Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2011 by clova
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