What am I doing here

by Bruce Chatwin

Hardcover, 1989




New York, N.Y., U.S.A. : Viking, 1989.


In this collection of profiles, essays and travel stories, Chatwin takes us to Benin, where he is arrested as a mercenary during a coup; to Boston to meet an LSD guru who believes he is Christ; to India with Indira Ghandi when she attempted a political comeback in 1978; and to Nepal where he reminds us that 'Man's real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot'

Media reviews

In ''What Am I Doing Here,'' Chatwin comes right out and tells us that five of the pieces are short stories, labeling each of them ''A Story'' lest there be any confusion. They're the weakest part of this collection, and they read more like outtakes from his other books than self-contained works of
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fiction. But many of the essays in ''What Am I Doing Here'' are examples of Chatwin at his best - part observer, part interviewer, part scholar. What brings them alive is his special talent for noticing life's strange, riveting details. He was a born Autolycus, a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles. What comes through in his last book is a life miscellaneous and on the move, traveled on foot, but never pedestrian.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
Bruce Chatwin was perhaps the biggest star of the British travel-writing boom of the eighties, but also the first to burn out, a victim of that other great viral phenomenon of the period, AIDS. Before becoming a serious traveller, he had already established himself as a formidable judge of fine
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art, with a glowing career ahead of him at Sotheby's. But then he went off to South America for six months, and wrote In Patagonia, the first of a short but insanely beautiful collection of books that all hover somewhere on the borders of fiction and travel-writing.
This was Chatwin's last book, a collection of his short stories, essays and journalism from the seventies and eighties which he prepared for publication during his final illness (which he refers to in several pieces, but still steadfastly refuses to call by its proper name, even though everyone who read the book must have known what it was...).

Despite the circumstances, almost everything in the book still seems to reflect Chatwin's usual concern for perfection of style, and it's a pleasure to read throughout. The subject-matter, as you might expect, ranges widely over his big interests in life - in particular the fine art business, travel, architecture, nomads, and literature. He says in an introductory note that all but one of the pieces were "my ideas", but there does seem to be quite a spectrum between very personal reflections and obvious newspaper commissions (like the Observer article describing a cruise on the Volga with a boatload of German Stalingrad veterans and widows - a kind of trip it's rather difficult to imagine Chatwin going on on his own initiative).
There are some very interesting peripheral notes related to his other books, such as his account of working with Werner Herzog on the film version of The viceroy of Ouidah, and some tantalising hints of other things that might have been developed into books if he had had more time.
A book that everyone who enjoys Chatwin's prose would want to have on their shelves to complete the set, but perhaps not the first one you would reach for if you don't know his work yet.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The author of one of my favorite short novels, Bruce Chatwin here demonstrates his story-telling ability amidst the realities of travel and the vast world of his extended friendships and acquaintances. As an example the following is from “Mrs. Mandelstam,” Chatwin’s account of his visit with
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the widow of the Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam:
"White metal fastenings glittered among the brown stumps of her teeth. A cigarette stuck to her lower lip. Her nose was a weapon. You knew for certain she was one of the most powerful women in the world, and knew she knew it…. She waved me to a chair and, as she waved, one of her breasts tumbled out of her nightie. "Tell me," she shoved it back, "are there any grand poets left in your country?"
The joy of reading his prose is surpassed only by the delight in knowing that opening the book to any page you will be engrossed by the words upon the page. A reader's delight that persuades you with its charm that you should return to one of his other books as soon as possible.
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LibraryThing member amerynth
I really enjoy Bruce Chatwin's writing style (though was a bit taken aback when I read his assessment that he writes like Hemingway or D.H. Lawrence....) so "What am I doing here?" has that going for it, at least.

The book really pales in comparison to Chatwin's others, however. It's filled with
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vignettes and a few short stories about people that Chatwin has met, traveled with (or liked to imagine he knew.) Some were really fascinating... others were really tedious.

I'd really only recommend this book to Chatwin completists. If you're new to his work, you are much better off with "In Patagonia" or "Songlines for non-fiction or "On the Black Hill" for non-fiction, as all are really wonderful.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Chatwin always tells a good story and he tells it well. Even when one questions or disagrees with his perceptual bias, he is clear and vibrant. And that's all we can ask when someone else is doing the seeing [in a travel book] for us.
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
A dazzling collection of essays, not just travel writing but art and art history as well. The people Chatwin met, the places; it does feel like a compendium for completists, but the quality is universally so high that you can't grudge the publishers their choice.
LibraryThing member Steve38
A disappointing collection of bits snd pieces of Bruce Chatwin's writing. Some of the recollections of meetings with eccentric personalities are amusing. Most of the journalistic pieces are boring. But what comes through is the privileged, posh, prejudiced nature of the person. A younger version of
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Laurens van der Post. Talking in generalities about peoples, nations with no idea how most people live. Sadly it has put me off reading any more of his work.
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LibraryThing member mstrust
My first read of Chatwin's writing, and this book turns out to have been his last. The essays are grouped under titles, such as "Friends", which includes Diana Vreeland. "Encounters" includes a wild memoir of being in Africa with Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski as they filmed a movie. He also writes
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of nomads, French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet in Paris, and meeting a "wolf-boy" in India in 1978.
Reading Chatwin's essays is like getting an education about the world of the last 35 years of the 20th Century. He sought out the rare and unusual, often focusing on one person, or a small group, to tell the story of how they live. I'll look for more from him.
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