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The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
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The Songlines (1988)

by Bruce Chatwin

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2,370None2,631 (3.96)79
Recently added byanandau, shagger, rottenhat, phronsiekeys, private library, moonwatcher, MiaCulpa, Myrrys, auldtwa1
Legacy LibrariesRobert Ranke Graves
  1. 30
    Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade (mercure)
    mercure: Wade addresses many of the issues that fascinated Chatwin from a scientific point of view.
  2. 20
    In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (flissp, John_Vaughan)
  3. 10
    Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins by Ian Tattersall (elenchus)
    elenchus: There is an intriguing overlap between Chatwin's thesis that human's have a nomadic instinct linked to our early history as prey to the big cats; and Tattersall's exploration of just when hominids moved out of forested areas and into the open edge areas and grasslands, and what implications that had for our diet, behaviors, group organization, and brain development. Each book focuses on other themes, but this overlap is moderately important to each and reinforces one another in useful ways.… (more)
  4. 10
    Utz by Bruce Chatwin (John_Vaughan)
  5. 10
    One for the Road by Tony Horwitz (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: Bruce Chatwin was fasinated by nomads and wanderings, Tony Horwitz qualifies for both, and writes with engaging wit.
  6. 00
    An intruder's guide to East Arnhem Land by Andrew McMillan (MiaCulpa)
    MiaCulpa: Both delve into the traditional beliefs of Australian Aboriginals, the oldest living culture on Earth. While neither provide an explanation about many Aboriginal customs (which is good as many of these customs are secret), they do provide a good starting point for people wishing to learn more about Aboriginal cultures.… (more)
  7. 00
    In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams by Tahir Shah (PatMock)
    PatMock: If you liked the concept of stories providing underlying connections
  8. 00
    Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache by Keith H. Basso (elenchus)
    elenchus: A remarkably similar use of story, myth, and nomadism among the Western Apache and Australian indigenous people. Basso's is an accessible scholarly take, but the stories and their use by Apache individuals take center stage. Chatwin's prose is more poetic and less rigorous (he insisted The Songlines was fiction), but highly evocative of story and myth.… (more)
  9. 00
    What Am I Doing Here? by Bruce Chatwin (John_Vaughan)
  10. 00
    Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before by Tony Horwitz (John_Vaughan)
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» See also 79 mentions

English (32)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (40)
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
I came to "Songlines" following my discovery of Chatwin through "In Patagonia", in my mind one of the best examples of travel writing I've read. "Songlines", unfortunately, does not reach the same heights, although there are certainly moments of interest within.

I work closely with Aboriginal people so my attitude to "Songlines" will be different to many readers, who will be reading of the idea of songlines and other cultural beliefs and practices for the first time. Chatwin does well to explain some of these traditions and beliefs, although I understand some Aboriginal people who spoke with Chatwin were angry when he wrote of some beliefs that were not to be passed on.

It may also interest some readers that the proposed Alice Springs to Darwin railway, the reason behind many of Chatwin's interactions with local Aboriginal people, has finally been built. I hope only a minimum of songlines were interrupted by the railway and local Aboriginals are keeping their culture strong. ( )
1 vote MiaCulpa | Apr 1, 2014 |
Excellent, dreamlike account of Chatwin's quest to understand both the origins and spiritual meaning of Songlines of the Australian Aborigines. ( )
  stacy_chambers | Aug 22, 2013 |
There was plenty in this book that irritated me, and at times, yes things that fascinated me. Indeed, this book is saved from a one star rating for the simple reason that I found what was conveyed about Australian Aborigine culture and their “Songlines” fascinating. When Chatwin kept to his personal observations of the people of the Outback, whether of European extraction or Aboriginal, I was riveted. I have to admit this book did what the best books do--inspire me to read more on the subject--but alas even fifteen years after this book’s publication there’s blessed little to be found on the subject of Aborigine culture easily accessible to the general reader--that you can find by browsing the neighborhood bookstore or library. This book is easily the best known.

I recently read Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country and Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, and both spoke of the Aborigines of Australia as one of the oldest cultures; it was claimed they had been basically unchanged since humans became a behaviorally distinct species--at least until European settlement ended their isolation. As such, they’ve long fascinated anthropologists as a possible window into human pre-history. Chatwin believed they’re a key to a past when humans were constantly on the move, prey to the “Great Beast,” a sabre-tooth cat for whom we were their favorite meal. The “songlines” or “dreaming tracks” are songs that mark routes which the Aborigines believe were walked by the Ancestor totems and must be followed and sung to keep the land alive. The very melody and rhythm of the song can mark direction and distance. Chatwin described songlines as "the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known ... to the Aboriginals as the 'Footprints of the Ancestors' or the 'Way of the Law'.” So songlines are myth, law, trade routes and maps--even land deeds. Chatwin believed all cultures had their songlines, often preserved in their myths.

All good. The problem is I find Chatwin maddeningly meandering and unreliable. He himself said that. “To call The Songlines fiction is misleading. To call it non-fiction is an absolute lie.” He doesn’t distinguish clearly in his text between one and the other. Worse, according to the introduction by Rory Stewart, who admired Chatwin’s books, “he inserted images and symbols, from other poems, painting, and myths, copied other people’s sentences and structures”--and without attribution. Stewart doesn’t use the word, but by any other name this is plagiarism--to me a writer’s greatest sin. According to Stewart, Chatwin wouldn’t hesitate to distort and invent in the stories of his travels in order to call up parallels and allusions to classic works. The people who appear in the book are mostly based on real people--but let’s just say that even according to the man who wrote the introduction to this book, well, you shouldn’t judge the people by the portrait, and it’s probably kind that in many cases Chatwin changed their names and personal details.

The other thing that drove me batty was the section “From the Notebook” which took up about a third of the book. Chatwin carried his notes in moleskin notebooks, and considered them more precious than his passport. Unfortunately he felt the need to share excerpts with us--at length--that mostly consisted of quotations from other books, what comes down to lecture notes, and vignettes from other travels. This is mostly where he details his anthropological theories about the origins of language, the nomadic nature of humans and our predation by the “Great Beast” and what it meant for human culture. Stewart called Chatwin “erudite” but for me especially here he comes across to me as a poseur. He never really pulls his theories together. It’s all very scattershot. So, is the book worth reading? Sorta. I’m rather glad I did because the picture of the Aborigines intrigued me and left me wanting to know more, but I was constantly wishing I was reading a more solidly factual book on them. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Feb 26, 2013 |
Chatwin alla ricerca della natura umana. Così sintetizzerei Le vie dei canti. Una natura che secondo l’autore è nomade: la sedentarietà moderna è solo una prigione cui l’uomo cerca di sottrarsi. All’inizio lo scopo del libro non risulta evidente. Salta all’occhio certamente la sua natura di diario, di resoconto di viaggio. In questo senso ritroviamo il solito Chatwin: una narrazione legata a persone e fatti e non a luoghi e paesaggi. Alla ricerca delle Vie dei Canti, mitici racconti della creazione degli aborigeni australiani, Chatwin cerca la conferma della natura nomade dell’uomo. Ma è solo oltre la metà del libro che questo scopo risulta finalmente evidente, quando l’autore ci presenta estratti dei suoi famosi moleskine tutti volti a ricercare le ragioni del nomadismo, attraverso riflessioni sui testi sacri, sulle abitudini dell’uomo e sui suoi stessi viaggi.
Chi voglia avvicinarsi a questo testo quindi deve farlo nel modo corretto: non si troverà un racconto di viaggio sull’Australia ma un’intesa e, a parere di chi scrive, meravigliosa trattazione su ciò che ci spinge a esplorare, conoscere, viaggiare. ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
Chatwin alla ricerca della natura umana. Così sintetizzerei Le vie dei canti. Una natura che secondo l’autore è nomade: la sedentarietà moderna è solo una prigione cui l’uomo cerca di sottrarsi. All’inizio lo scopo del libro non risulta evidente. Salta all’occhio certamente la sua natura di diario, di resoconto di viaggio. In questo senso ritroviamo il solito Chatwin: una narrazione legata a persone e fatti e non a luoghi e paesaggi. Alla ricerca delle Vie dei Canti, mitici racconti della creazione degli aborigeni australiani, Chatwin cerca la conferma della natura nomade dell’uomo. Ma è solo oltre la metà del libro che questo scopo risulta finalmente evidente, quando l’autore ci presenta estratti dei suoi famosi moleskine tutti volti a ricercare le ragioni del nomadismo, attraverso riflessioni sui testi sacri, sulle abitudini dell’uomo e sui suoi stessi viaggi.
Chi voglia avvicinarsi a questo testo quindi deve farlo nel modo corretto: non si troverà un racconto di viaggio sull’Australia ma un’intesa e, a parere di chi scrive, meravigliosa trattazione su ciò che ci spinge a esplorare, conoscere, viaggiare. ( )
  Zeruhur | May 26, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
It engages the full range of the author's passions: his obsession with travel; his love of nomads and the nomadic way of life; his horror at the vulgarity and exploitativeness of the modern world; his hunger to understand man's origins and essential nature and so find some source of hope for the future. Part adventure-story, part novel-of-ideas, part satire on the follies of ''progress,'' part spiritual autobiography, part passionate plea for a return to simplicity of being and behavior, ''The Songlines'' is a seething gallimaufry of a book, a great Burtonian galimatias of anecdote and speculation and description, fascinating, moving, infuriating, incoherent, all at once
added by John_Vaughan | editNY Times, Andrew Harvey (Jul 12, 1987)
 
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In Alice Springs - a grid of scorching streets where men in long white socks were forever getting in and out of Land Cruisers - I met a Russian who was mapping the sacred sites of the Aboriginals.
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Das Lächeln, sagte ich, sei wie eine Botschaft aus dem Goldenen Zeitalter. Es habe mich gelehrt, alle Argumente, die für die Schlechtigkeit der menschlichen Natur sprächen, unverzüglich zurückzuweisen. Der gedanke, zu einer "ursprünglichen Einfachheit" zurückzukehren, sei nicht naiv oder unwissenschaftlich oder realitätsfremd.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0140094296, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:41 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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