Book Reviews for the Arm-Chair Traveler #4: In Patagonia

Doesn't it look fun? image via
Doesn’t it look fun? image via

I’m procrastinating when it comes to reviewing museums in Italy. I’ve been to so many and I’m not quite ready to dive into that, so here’s a travel book review instead!

Books and travel are the best, so I’m on a quest to combine the two as much as I can. I’m on a (slow) journey through Conde Nast Traveler’s “86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time” and though it took me awhile to get through #4 (I’m reading these books in no particular order), finally, finally here is the review of Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. What my opinions on Fear and LoathingSea and Sardinia, or Great Plains? I know you do!

4. Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia (1977) read (sloooowly) over Oct-Nov. 2014

In Patagonia has HIGH literary cred and the experimental format of the book, 97 mini-essays, some as short as a paragraph, with the longest at a few pages, create an epic partly fictional, partly historical, partly confusing picture of one of the farthest corners of the world. The vignettes tend to feature the often brutal stories of violence against indigenous people, the immigrants who have superseded and subjugated them, and the greater complex politics above it all, plus dinosaurs. The mini-essays do not necessarily follow a linear path and are only every slightly (if at all) linked together giving the impression of a truly vagabond journey where Chatwin blew like a leaf to different towns, plantations, sites of unspeakable violence, monasteries, or caves with dinosaur fossils. The short essays made it both easy and challenging to read– at times I would plow through 30 pages and nearly as many essays in a sitting, at others I would be stuck at 2 and unwilling to move forward. And unfortunately, as the book is nearly 40 years old it can at moments seem excessively dated– political situations and names that were likely common currency in the ’70s have fallen out of colloquial knowledge and made some of the broader political messages difficult to follow. Regardless, Chatwin’s explorations laid bare the brutality of travel in a remote, racially/politically charged area. Despite the literary glories of the book though, it did not greatly inspire me to visit Argentina or Chile (though I already wanted to go to both), but that might partly be due to the fact that the way Chatwin traveled (hitchhiking, dropping in on people’s houses, etc) isn’t really possible anymore and is especially impossible for a woman. In many ways In Patagonia parallels with Fear and Loathing in that both feature men having surreal, rather gendered adventures in search of something that isn’t there, or possibly never existed.

Have you read In Patagonia? What did you think?

I’ve already started in on #5, and it’s a classic: Paul Theroux’s Pillars of Hercules: acerbic, possibly a little bit racist wit, yay!

arm chair travelling!! ha, so punny. (again I would like to give image credit for this, but I don't know who owns it...)
arm chair travelling!! ha, so punny. (again I would like to give image credit for this, but I don’t know who owns it…)



6 thoughts on “Book Reviews for the Arm-Chair Traveler #4: In Patagonia

    1. It is a bit of a slog, which surprised me because 1) it’s short (less than 200 pages)! and 2) the mini-essay format seems like it would encourage quick reading. Thanks for the comment!

  1. I loved In Patagonia, although to me it took quite a while to get through . I think Chatwin has such a personal style that you have to be forced into listening. My fascination was so total what I dreamt to go to Patagonia until I actually did . And I think after seeing it he really got the heart of it.
    Try “The Songlines” , it is very fast.
    I read somewhere that Chatwin considered his books as fiction and not travel and used to be annoyed at them being classified as travel. I know for sure that many characters are fantasy, maybe put up from a bit of this and a bit of that but still invented, although his style tricks to think that it is a recit , which I think makes him a greater writer.

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