Bruce Chatwin’s book has much to offer readers of multiple disciplines…the historian, the travel reader, readers of literature and those who simply enjoy the personal anecdotes of memoirs and autobiographies.
One of the reasons why Chatwin’s book can have such a broad interest is his writing style. Chatwin’s writing is highly personable and readily engaging. It captivates and holds the reader’s interest, while conveying various facts and truths. The style is never preachy, yet he masterfully conveys a sense of biting satirical wit through some of his observations, especially in regard to potential methods of exploitation against the Aboriginal people. Yet, his own depiction of the Aborigines does not shy away from stark realism—a portrayal that in a way reflects the Australian landscape.
His writing is visual. He adeptly portrays his surroundings and the various characteristics and mannerisms of the people with whom he interacts, allowing the reader to obtain a complete picture within the mind’s eye. Through his rendering, the Aboriginal songlines, or dreaming tracks that represent the footpaths and journeys taken by the totemic beings of the creation myths, become vibrantly alive. The positioning of various elements—land, wind, light, water—work together to help you visualize or “read” the movement of, for example an ancestral lizard, as described in one of these dreamings. The land itself may be stark and harsh, yet it is teeming with a lifelike expression that’s full of majestic beauty and wonder.
As Chatwin notes, these dreamings are highly personal—an essential part of the self in Aboriginal culture. Their essence becomes a study of origins and nature—a study that Chatwin readily takes to heart. The latter part of the book draws on Chatwin’s own personal experiences and past interactions that hold similarities to the aboriginal journeys he has described. Chatwin’s reflections on origin and self, and the many journeys and experiences he has faced become a personal songline that he has come to gradually cultivate over time…an illustrative story full of personal highs and lows, paired with a kind of personal struggle of self-expression evident in his prose. Yet in the end, his “songline” reflects a kind of hope in this quest for knowledge and understanding of self in relation to one’s surroundings—a hope based upon the basic fundamentals of human nature.
Copy provided by NetGalley