domingo, 13 de abril de 2008

The Songlines

by Bruce Chatwin

The travel log is a genre of which I have long been suspicious. It seems like a playground for the pompous, what someone writes when his wandering suddenly makes him worth listening to for some reason. Though I would never call Bruce Chatwin a modest man, the boastings that appear in his book are thoroughly shadowed by the beautiful insight he shares throughout. He leaves the reader to assess every situation he presents, making the book more a report than an editorial.

The Songlines follows Chatwin's journey through the desolation of the Australian Outback, investigating the history and mythology of the Aboriginals. Each short chapter vividly describes an episode in his travels, be it an encounter with drunk racists in a pub or a run in with exploitative art traders. The book is filled with quirky characters, whose hilarious or heartbreaking tales bring depth to what could very well have been a bland thesis.

Perhaps most notable about the book is the tragic portrait it paints of the Aboriginals' lot in modern Australia. Chatwin artfully juxtaposes the immensely beautiful traditions of the natives with the wretched conditions into which they have been placed by ubiquitous oppressors.

At the core of the novel lies Chatwin's intriguing conjecture that man is inherently a migratory animal; that the restlessness an individual feels is a natural expression of longing to return to the nomadic lifestyle from whence we came. The final quarter of the book is a pouring of evidence in support of this theory, extending from Germanic folklore to Che Guevara to the Beadoins of North Africa. It can feel scatterbrained at times, but the connections he draws are uncanny.

This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in mythology, indigenous peoples, music, poetry, travel, Australia, archaeology, languages, and/or God. Please read it!