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Chatwin, Bruce

story central aborigines nomadic

(British, 1940–89)

Chatwin worked at Sotheby's before studying archaeology and taking up travelling. He worked as a peripatetic correspondent for the Sunday Times, but gave this up to trek alone through the deserts of Argentina and Chile. His interest in place and in nomadic tribes is reflected in his strikingly original fiction. Start with On the Black Hill (1982), the story of two brothers on a farm in Wales. Chatwin creates the daily reality of their rooted lives and the land they work with a certainty that is reminiscent of Thomas Hardy. By way of contrast, read The Songlines (1987), whose narrator travels around Australian Aboriginal camps in search of the songlines, the invisible Dreaming tracks of the Ancestors which have given physical and spiritual guidance to the Aborigines. The central tenet of the novel is that being nomadic rather than being settled is the state most conducive to human happiness. Some of the explanations attributed to Aborigines here are fanciful, but as a bold novel of ideas this works well. The Viceroy of Ouidah (1986) tells the decadent story of a poor Brazilian who makes his fortune in the African kingdom of Dahomey in the early 1800s. Utz (Booker shortlisted, 1988) spans the middle years of the twentieth century in central Europe, in the life of the part-Jewish hero Utz, a collector of fine porcelains who is in hiding in Prague.

John Fowles, Barry Unsworth, Julian Barnes  JR

Chaucer, Geoffrey [next] [back] Charles, Will.

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