In Patagonia

by Bruce Chatwin

Paperback, 1988

Call number

918 C



Penguin Books (1988), Edition: Later Printing, 224 pages


"An exhilarating look at a place that still retains the exotic mystery of a far-off, unseen land, Bruce Chatwin's exquisite account of his journey through Patagonia teems with evocative descriptions, remarkable bits of history, and unforgettable anecdotes. Fueled by an unmistakable lust for life and adventure and a singular gift for storytelling, Chatwin treks through "the uttermost part of the earth"--That stretch of land at the southern tip of South America, where bandits were once made welcome - in search of almost-forgotten legends, the descendants of Welsh immigrants, and the log cabin built by Butch Cassidy."--Jacket.

Media reviews

If the book were nothing more than a study of how the English maintain quaint customs in remote environments, its appeal would be limited. Fortunately, Mr. Chatwin has an inquiring mind, and part of the pleasure lies in his digressions. Not for him the straight line and the urgent destination. He
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detours and meanders and circles back, and before we know it we are being told tales of the early navigators, or given an account of an anarchist revolution, or hearing the true story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who went to Patagonia in 1901 on the run from the Pinkertons, started a sheep farm and stayed for five years. Mr. Chatwin's mind, like a crowded attic without cobwebs, produces curios and discontinued models, presented in a manner that is laconic without being listless, literate without being pedantic, and intent without being breathless
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User reviews

LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
Bruce Chatwin was my kind of traveller. He seeked out the fringes, the outback, the edges of the world, and brought back accounts focusing on the right things: places, meetings and stories. In In Patagonia, he journeys back and forth across the most southern part of South America, by boat, by truck
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and by foot. He initially sets out to find a new sample of Mylodon skin, remains of a giant pre-historic sloth, that was once brought home to England by an ancestor of his and later lost in a mundane way – accidentally thrown away in a move. But Chatwin, being Chatwin, is in no immediate hurry to get to the cave of the Mylodon. He casually follows storylines and historical figures, meeting with the few people living in these very sparsely populated areas, letting himself be pointed in new directions. A pattern of dreamers and escapists is forming: outlaws, revolutionaries, adventurers, explorers, hermits, gold-diggers. And in contrast to those, the Indian cultures, ruthlessly destroyed and exterminated almost in passing.

The sense of place here is overwhelming, even though Chatwin isn’t stressing to build connections between his nearly hundred chapters. And the landscape he paints is both mental and physical. This is a book that evokes wanderlust in me, and makes me long for the weight of a worn backpack on my shoulders again (even if my travels were never as spectacular as this).
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LibraryThing member gbill
For my taste, Chatwin’s musings while traveling through Patagonia is a bit random, and too bogged down in him re-telling what he had read about, either as it related to Butch Cassidy and his cohorts fleeing to Patagonia, or historical tales of revolution from the 19th century to sea travel from
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the 16th. Sometimes it’s of interest, other times, not so much, and I would have liked more on his own travels through this beautiful country. As it is, the book reveals little about Chatwin himself and has no deep insights into life.

Chatwin’s journey to the end of the world does turn up a number of odds and ends of humanity. Patagonia and Argentina in general are shown to be a bit like America in the 19th century: full of natural rugged beauty, taking an influx of European immigrants who were looking for a better life and who brought bits of their culture, and then who promptly wiped out the native peoples through violence and disease. There are some shocking tales in the book, including sailors from hundreds of years ago clubbing twenty thousand penguins to death on Penguin Island, though happily in that case the penguins have their revenge in the form of a worm they carried, which ate clothes, bedding, human flesh, and the side of the ship.

I have no idea why the NY Times said this was “A little masterpiece of travel, history, and adventure.” Surely there must be better books to travel with.

On death, this one from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
“The many men so beautiful!
And they all dead did lie:
And a thousand, thousand slimy things
Lived on and so did I.”

On man’s inhumanity to man:
“Darwin quite liked Jemmy Button, but the wild Fuegians appalled him. … Instead he lapsed into that common feeling of naturalists: to marvel at the intricate perfection of other creatures and recoil from the squalor of man. Darwin thought the Fuegians ‘the most abject and miserable creatures’ he anywhere beheld. … He sneered at their canoe; he sneered at their language (‘scarcely deserves to be called articulate’) and confessed he could hardly make himself believe they were ‘fellow creatures and inhabitants of the same world’.”

And what’s shocking is the language of these people was so poetic; a dictionary compiled by Thomas Bridges unfortunately “survived the Indians to become their monument”, and is referenced and added to my internal “fuck you Charles Darwin”:
“What shall we think of a people who defined ‘monotony’ as ‘an absence of male friends?’ Or, for ‘depression’, used the word that described the vulnerable phase in a crab’s seasonal cycle, when it has sloughed off its old shell and waits for another to grow? Or who derived ‘lazy’ from the Jackass Penguin? Or ‘adulterous’ from the hobby, a small hawk that flits here and there, hovering motionless over its next victim?
Here are just a few of their synonyms:
Sleet – Fish scales
A shoal of sprats – Slimy mucus
A tangle of trees that have fallen blocking the path forward – A hiccough
Fuel – Something burned – Cancer
Mussels out of season – shriveled skin – Old age”

Lastly, I liked this one on mate, the drink favored by Argentinians:
“One man presided over the ritual. He filled the hot brown gourds and the green liquid frothed to the neck. The men fondled the gourds and sucked at the bitter drink, talking about mate the way other men talked about women.”
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LibraryThing member tedmahsun
While Bruce Chatwin, who was working as a journalist for the Sunday Times, was interviewing the then 93-year-old architect and designer, Eileen Gray, he noticed a map of Patagonia on her wall.

"I've always wanted to go there," he said.

"So have I," Gray replied. "Go there for me."

Chatwin immediately
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left for Patagonia, and when he got there he telegrammed his employers: "Have gone to Patagonia". What follows is an amazing trip, mostly journeyed on foot throughout the south of South America, and the accounts experienced there written down in Chatwin's now-classic In Patagonia.

The book starts off with Chatwin's recollection when as a child, he sees a piece of old animal skin in his grandmother's house. His mother tells him it is from a brontosaurus, but later he finds out it is actually from the sloth-like Mylodon. This doesn't dampen his fascination with the piece of skin and soon he becomes even more fascinated with the person, his great-uncle Charley, who had brought it all the way to England from Patagonia. Zig-zagging his way across arid plains and deserts, Chatwin tracks the history of the people and places he comes across as well as digging up information about his ancestor at his home in Punta Arenas.

In this book, his first, Chatwin writes with variable consistency. Sometimes the prose feels forced and dry: "In the Plaza de Armas a ceremony was in progress. It was one hundred years since Don José Menéndez set foot in Punta Arenas and a well-heeled party of his descendants had come south to unveil his memorial. The woman wore black dresses, pearls furs and patent shoes. The men had the drawn look that comes of protecting an overextended acreage."

Other times, it feels like he's riding on a passionate train of thought and one tends to feel Chatwin was as excited writing it as one is while reading: "Never in my life have I wanted anything as I wanted that piece of skin. My grandmother said I should have it one day, perhaps. And when she died I said: 'Now I can have the piece of brontosaurus,' but my mother said: 'Oh, that thing! I'm afraid we threw it away.'"

In Patagonia isn't just a record of a wandering writer, it's a history book, a novel and a travel book in one. With this book, Chatwin redefined the genre of travel writing with his little nuggets of historical information weaved intricately together with his search for anecdotes about his uncle and his time. The result is a sometimes wonderful, sometimes tiresome account. But stick with it - you will be rewarded and delighted with Chatwin's experiences and discoveries.
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LibraryThing member Jannes
What can I say? It's a classic, and it's a decent read. The fact that I was mildly dissappointed probably has more to do with hype than the book itself.

It's a rambling and somewhat unstructured travelogue, far from the well structured chronicle of Theroux and his likes. Chatwin frequently bounces
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of track with anecdotes and historical tidbits, but that's all part of his charm. You just have to trust him - and keep up
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LibraryThing member theonearmedcrab
One of the earlier travel books about the south of Argentina is “In Patagonia” (1977) by Bruce Chatwin, who traveled the area in the early 1970s. He visits mostly fellow-British immigrants – he seems to have looked up almost every Englishman, Welsh and Scot in Patagonia – and tells of their
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lives, their histories. In the process he also comes up with other little-known gems, like the latter-day adventures of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who exchanged criminal life in North America for Patagonia when police and detectives in the former got too close on their heels. Or the Chilean workers revolution of the 1920s, which ended in the wholesome slaughter of bandit-turned strikers by the Argentine army, a solution heartily supported by the British sheep-farming community in Patagonia. Or, my favourite, the establishment of the Kingdom of Patagonia by a French lawyer in the 1860s, who set off to head the Chilean Araucanian Indians in their struggle against the Argentinian Republic, and whose descendants still make a modest claim to the throne. The journey ends in Punta Arenas in Chile, where one of Chatwin’s grand-family established a business round the turn of the 20th Century, and was involved in the search for the last living mylodon – a type of a sloth that died out some 10,000 years ago -, another one of those entertaining stories. Despite the presence of these tales in the book, Chatwin’s is a little short on observations and a little long on Britishers, and all kind of other immigrants’ stories – but perhaps that is the reality of Patagonia.
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LibraryThing member Lucylocket
A great travel book. So many amazing people and places. This is really fascinating. I loved the part about the Welsh community.
LibraryThing member skf
I have decided I prefer history to travelogues. Although Bruce Chatwin writes well, I could not interest myself in his travel experiences or the personalities he encountered. However, his historical characters perked me up. I especially enjoyed the saga of Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longabaugh,
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a.k.a. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids. The yarns of his cousin, sea captian Charley Milward, also fascinated me, and thankfully took up a good portion of the book.

If you prefer your adventures from an armchair, you may relish Bruce Chatwin's quest for the skin of a Giant Sloth from Patagonia.
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LibraryThing member miketroll
Absorbing travel notes on a remote and little known region of the world.
LibraryThing member thierry
Beautifully evocative classic account of travels and adventures in Patagonia. The author is particularly interested in the fate and lives of Welsh and other British emigrants to this forgotten and out of the way corner of the world. After a few generations and in relative isolation, how can those
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people maintain their culture? To me, this is of great interest and relevance. While some have questioned the veracity of the encounters depicted, I love the sense of authenticity – the people, the feelings, the curiosity – all feel so real. I also particularly enjoyed the meandering journey, the lack of agenda, or itinerary – in the travels, in his meetings and in the anecdotes. This is perfect book to get lost in.
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LibraryThing member carmilla222
I heard that this is considered classic travel writing, and maybe that means that it was groundbreaking once, or that it's a catalog of things to avoid in the future. In some parts, it reads like a journal, and some parts like a research paper -- but none of it is particularly compelling.
LibraryThing member aaronbaron
This book brings postmodernism to the traditional travelogue, in that rather than a single seamless narrative we get anecdotal splices of events and impressions. At first, this style proved exciting as it jolted me awake, but it wore thinn, and at several points in the book actual insight is
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supplanted entirely by technique. But the fragments have sharply etched details that serve to invoke the setting, and they are loosely united in the overwhelming themes of the book: restlessness, displacement, and the wayward coupling of far away places and lost times. Argentina appears as a fascinating mishmash of cultures and landscapes, a roughly hewn analogue of the rest of the world yet unique in itself.
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LibraryThing member tzelman
A remote part of the world wih its own ghosts and legends--Chatwin is extroverted and chatty
LibraryThing member MusicalGlass
Peripatetic Englishman at the tip of South America. Impressions and imagined history.

"The candidate must submerge himself for forty days and forty nights under a waterfall of the Thraiguén River, to wash off the effects of his Christian baptism. (During this time he is allowed a little toast).
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Next, he must catch, without fumbling, a skull, which the instructor throws from the crown of a tricorn hat. He must kill his best friend to show he has wiped out all trace of sentiment. He must sign a document with blood from his own veins. He must disinter a recently buried male Christian corpse and flay the skin from the breast. Once this is cured and dried, he sews it into a ‘thieves’ waistcoat.’ The human grease remaining in the skin gives off a soft phosphorescence, which lights the member’s nocturnal expeditions."
Unibroue La Fin Du Monde
Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout
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LibraryThing member tracyfox
Often mentioned as a classic of travel writing, I had high expectations for In Patagonia. Flipping through the book, I saw photos of glaciers and ancient cave paintings. I should have looked more closely at the photos of rugged homesteaders and abandoned ranches. Chatwin's classic trek is tightly
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focused on the settlement of Patagonia by various Europeans and the possibility that Argentina was the last hiding place for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The book mainly recounts the names and home countries of various settlers and the type of livestock they raised and the church they attended. It provides little more than a few rambling theories about the notorious cowboy's time in Patagonia. The author never finds the time to describe the natural splendor of Patagonia or the history or culture of its original inhabitants. The framing of the tale is interesting but Chatwin's search of the origins of his Uncle Charley's Giant Sloth skin is a very small part of the story and not enough to make up for the monotony of the seemingly endless slog from isolated ranch to isolated ranch.
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LibraryThing member fruitnoggin
Love, love, love this book. So much to it, so much to learn about the world.
LibraryThing member AntT
Charming, nostalgic, nicely written—made me think of my own days long ago in Argentina...
LibraryThing member tatteredpage
This is the second time I've read this novel and it was a far more successful read than the first. Previously I was bored to tears by it, but I was also a college freshman without much in the way of literary fine tuning. I was better prepared now for Chatwin's work, I think. I found the novel to be
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a kind of quiet meditation on life in a hard country. One part historical another part cultural it had a bit of an anthropological or journalistic tone to it, which offered a sense of observational distance while still allowing an intimacy to develop between the reader and the individuals, families, events and places he talks about. The writing carefully mirrors the Patagonian landscape both in its broad strokes and its beautiful subtleties.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Chatwin's In Patagonia has been called a masterpiece. It's short, but a masterpiece nonetheless. This is not your typical travel book. Chatwin doesn't linger over landscape and sights to see. Instead, he focuses on the historical and follows in the footsteps of legendary characters like Butch
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Cassidy. He journeys through Patagonia with a thirst for all that Patagonia is rumored to be, past and present. Don't expect to have a clear picture of Patagonia in your head when you are finished. You will have captured the nostalgic and the profound instead. There are only a quiet collection of photographs that don't quite add up to the narrative.
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LibraryThing member moncur_d
I’ve just finished rereading Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia. I first read it in 1978 or 79, I forget which, and still have my original Picador paperback copy.

I remember being impressed by the mystic otherworldliness of Chatwin’s luminous text – a journey to the end of the world in search of
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the skin of an extinct creature – a sort of Anglophone Borges.

Thirty plus years on I find myself still impressed by the quality of his writing and his technique of gluing little stories and events together in a narrative. Today, rather than a mystical journey I would view it more as a journey into a vanished society of English farm managers, Scottish Welsh and German migrants, more as social history than anything else.

When Chatwin travelled there, there were still people who remembered hearing stories of the early days of settlement and who remembered some of the events of the time. Now all these people would be long dead, and Patagonia, is doubtless a very different place – more Argentinian than perhaps it once was.

That said I still enjoyed the writing and the turns of phrase and the near fantastical parts of his story telling, and came away with the feeling that the world is now a more prosaic place than it once may have been...
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LibraryThing member whwatson
I read in one of the earlier reviews of this book, how this individual had attempted several times to start this novel without success. Finally, coming from a different place and mood, they started, finished and thoroughly enjoyed their reading experience.

Perhaps that has been my issue; and the
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primary reason why I have not rated or viewed this work of Bruce Chatwin’s as the exceptional or fascinating novel portrayed by most reviewers or critics before me.

I’m currently in a mood for Adventure books, and consequently, have searched various available book lists for ideas on highly rated authors and novels. “In Patagonia” was listed by Outside Magazine as one of the “Top 25 adventure books of the last 100 years.” Having read and been impressed by previous articles, videos, and DVDs on Patagonia, I was anxious to see how Chatwin treated this relatively untouched land of raw beauty, at times harsh living conditions, and limited population intrusion.

The book was interesting but not what I expected or was looking for. It was multi-facetted; part travel log, part search for ancestry heritage, and a fair amount of historical background. It would have been perfect in providing additional background before visiting and touring for several weeks. But the writing was inconsistent in holding my attention. Instances where I was captivated followed by sections that I wanted to just skip over.

To me it was not on the same plane as other novels listed in that top 25; ie, Touching the Void, or Alive, or Wind, Sand, and Stars. Or novels on other lists; such as Man Eaters of Tsavo, or Skeletons on The Zahara for instance.

So I’ll mark this one down as an interesting but not outstanding read. Then try a few others on the list and see if they satisfy my adventure craving.
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LibraryThing member JonArnold
Chatwin’s Patagonian journal is far more than an account of the lands he travelled through; instead he captures the spirit of the region, covering history and heritage ranging from the fates of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid through the European origins of the settlers and local wildlife. A
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fascinating, beautifully written account of why people travel to the ends of the earth and why they stay there.
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LibraryThing member michplunkett
I got through half of it and had to stop. I don't believe I've ever tried to read a book and had to stop reading due to pure boredom, or lack of wanting to finish it, since trying to read Heart of Darkness in high school.

This book may very well have some redeeming qualities to it, but in 100 pages
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I wasn't able to find any of them.
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LibraryThing member wandering_star
Descriptions spare and vivid, but overall style too laconic. Good on descriptions of all the European "exiles" though - highlights the key details of their lives through what they surround themselves with.
LibraryThing member k6gst
Very good.
LibraryThing member AntT
Charming, nostalgic, nicely written—made me think of my own days long ago in Argentina...




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