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What Am I Doing Here? (Vintage classics) Paperback – 3 Dec 1998
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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 travelling with Indira Gandhi in India. Chatwin excels, as usual, in the finely honed tale.
"As a writer he was unclassifiably interesting: lucid, ironic, cool. He seemed to owe nothing to anybody." (Colin Thubron Sunday Times)
"Chatwin is equally fascinating on places. He goes yeti-hunting in Nepal, and magnificently evokes the Himalayas' seductive harshness. He visits Afghanistan in the steps of his own favourite writer, Robert Byron, and reveals something no current news report ever succeeds in doing why anyone should want to spend time in that beautiful, tormented land...human existence at least as Chatwin sees it is gloriously open-ended, unpredictable and exotic" (Sunday Times)
"One of its chief delights is that it contains so many of its author'sbest anecdotes, his choicest performances" (Salman Rushdie Observer)
"I like the combination of its far-reaching quality and the minute precision with which his thoughts are charted" (Rose Tremain Sunday Times)
"All the writing in this volume demonstrates Bruce Chatwin’s loathing of the humdrum, the dreary, the predictable. What attracted him was the unusual, the weird and wonderful… the journalist in him (strongly present) knew a good story when it heard one" (Margaret Forster Guardian)
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The stories are cleverly intertwined with recollections of his encounters with key contemporary thinkers and personalities.
This gives him a platform to also reveal his vast erudition and to touch on cultural and philosophical reflections.
He may sometimes verge on a certain intellectual arrogance, but one can only forgive the precise writer and the well-travelled thinker.
My favourite story? His encounter with Andre Malraux. How about yours?
He quickly rose from the ranks of auction house Sotheby to a senior position. It gave him plenty of contacts to embark on a travelling & writing career that led him to e.g. Patagonia, West Africa, Australia, Eastern Europe and China. Researching “The Viceroy of Ouidah” in Benin during a failed coup, he was mistaken for a white mercenary and narrowly escaped death by firing squad. Other adventures are described in his novels and is this collection.
He always remained an independent author. Only one of the 35 stories in this collection was commissioned. The rest was conceived and researched by himself and were first published in often prestigious papers and journals.
This volume provides some of the background for the novels he composed. It also contains stories from the world of trading in fine art, portrayals of what he considered unique personalities, travel stories, and reviews of expressions of art and artists he found important. Was he an important thinker, writer and essayist? I think he was a quirky thinker whose memory is fortunately kept alive by reprints of his books. This collection is exciting and has never a dull moment.
Reading the book is not unlike having dinner with Bruce and the myriad of characters he spent so much time writing about; borrowing the clothes off my host.
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My only comment is about the condition of the book which I would describe...Read more