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review 2017-01-18 01:08
The Songlines - Bruce Chatwin

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

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review 2015-01-17 00:00
The Songlines
The Songlines - Bruce Chatwin I am in love with the structure of this book; initially, it describes a series of encounters with black and white Australians living in the nearly uninhabitable Central Australia. Chatwin's guide on this journey is an Australian of Russian descent, one of the many striking figures we meet - and I must add here that Chatwin was accused of the same sin as Kapuściński, apparently taking too much liberty with the degree of 'literariness' of his reportages.

Chatwin quite delicately (at least to my eyes) approaches the description of the Aboriginals (although they frequently come across as eluding understanding, before Chatwin starts to comment on his narrative). He does not mention the crimes perpetrated by white Australians on the blacks - the massacres, the unpunished killings, the taking away of children to 'reeducate' them. The whites he describes are a strange mix, representing a variety of attitudes toward the Aboriginals - sometimes greed, exasperation, and cruelty, but he mostly focuses on those who offer them nearly unconditional friendship and support.

The eponymous Songlines allow the book's 'surface level' to point to the connection between nomadism, land, language and mythology - all the scenes Chatwin recorded featuring the Aboriginals and their traditions serve to present them as a present-day model of the original nomadic society, which we fully comprehend later on: at some point, when the protagonist's/Chatwin's guide disappears for a few days, Chatwin turns to discuss the relation between people and the space they're in, people and predators, the nature of humans and human families, and the fears, needs, and coping mechanism we inherit from our distant ancestors. Chapter 30 alone - his musings on nomadism and human aggression - makes the book worth reading.
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review 2014-03-10 00:40
The Songlines Review!
The Songlines - Bruce Chatwin

I had to read Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines last month for my travel writing course. This is my first experience with Chatwin's writing and with this form of travel literature. I wasn't sure what to expect going into it, so I opted for not expecting anything, which turned out well in the end.


Since I didn't go into this novel with a set idea about what it was doing, I found that I was able enjoy the simple aspects of reading it, like how much it made me want to travel to Australia and learn more about the creation myths of the aboriginals there.


The Songlines had a really interesting focus, which kept me engaged even though it was pretty dead plot-wise. I'm not sure how much of it is based on fact and how much of it is fictionalized, but I found the aboriginal creation stories surrounding the Songlines really interesting, though I cannot for the life of me give a simple description of what the Songlines are.


I also really loved the focus on nomadic tribes in general, and the correlation between movement and happiness in these cultures. Reading this book, felt like a really unique springboard that made me consider and want to learn more about things that I hadn't thought of before. 


The value that I gained from this book comes primarily from the information and inspiration to learn that it imbued in me, and not so much from its status as a piece of literature. Though, the writing was well crafted and at times even beautiful, I couldn't fully identify my experience with this book as a literary one. I feel like I would have had a very similar experience if this were a documentary that I watched. The value truly was in the information and intellectual discussion surrounding nomadism. 


I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in creation myths and travelling to Australia. I really think that it's a great starting point if you are interested in aboriginal mythologies or nomadic mythologies and don't know where to start.


Happy Reading!

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text 2014-02-27 17:10
February Wrap Up & March TBR!
The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall
A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West - Blaine Harden

February is coming to an end and I've already completed all the books on my February TBR. What a great reading month! I haven't yet reviewed The Songlines or House of Leaves, but those reviews are forthcoming! For now, suffice it to say that I really enjoyed both of these novels. The Songlines has a super interesting focus and really made me want to travel to Australia and House of Leaves is an absolutely phenomenal read that I can't quite articulate my feelings about at this point. So fantastic. 


Now, on to March! This month, I will be reading three more novels for my experimental lit course: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon by CAConrad, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. I'm about a chapter into The Raw Shark Texts and I'm really enjoying it so far. 


And finally, I'm reading Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden this month just for the hell of it. It was on my unread shelf and I just felt like picking it up. I'm only a few chapters in right now, but so far it is super interesting, super engaging, and wonderfully readable. I can't wait to review this book in the near future.


Happy Reading!

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text 2014-02-01 15:20
February TBR!
Eunoia - Christian Bök
The People of Paper - Salvador Plascencia
House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski
The Songlines - Bruce Chatwin
The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

This month I have to focus almost entirely on school-related reading, but I'm actually really excited for most of it!


For my experimental contemporary lit class, I'm going to be reading Eunoia by Christian Bok, People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia, and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. And, for my travel writing course, I will be reading Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines. I will be posting reviews for each of these toward the end of the month.


I'm also going to reread John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. It just has to happen. I'm unreasonably excited for the movie coming out this summer, and would love to re-experience the book beforehand. 


I'm still making my way through The Return of the King, but with all the heavy, analytical reading that I have to do this month, I think that it's wisest to put it on pause.


What are you planning to read this month?


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