What am I Doing Here by Bruce Chatwin - review by Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

To be a Nomad

What am I Doing Here


Jonathan Cape 378pp £12.95 order from our bookshop

‘My whole life has been a search for the miraculous,’ Bruce Chatwin says. Each of these essays, fragments and sketches written between 1972 and the author’s recent death are way-stations in the search. Chatwin is unclassifiable. Certainly he is one of the practitioners who have enlarged, liberated and dignified the notion of travel writing. He is also a novelist and a cultural historian, a man of cosmopolitan outlook, capacious imagination, formidable erudition and fertile eccentricity.

‘Bizarre’ is an overused adjective now. But read these pages and you will see some bizarrerie. He meets, in Cameroon, a travelling salesman from Hong Kong who has recently contracted syphilis. In Moscow he finds Nadezhda Mandelstam, an ugly woman repining on a rumpled bed, engaged in a quest for

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