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What Am I Doing Here

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  1,440 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
'His last book, a "personal selection" of essays, portraits, meditations, travel writing and other unclassifiable Chatwinian forms of prose, was put together during his final, terrible year of wasting of its chief delights is that it contains so many of it's author's best anecdotes, his choicest performances'
Salman Rushdie, Observer
Paperback, 365 pages
Published November 5th 1990 by Picador (first published 1989)
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From memory, and it was a long time ago that I read this, it is a very mixed bag with no central theme. There are some travel/journalism pieces but also an essay on Ernst Juenger's diaries. That alone is the only piece that really sticks in my memory, reading that led me on to read On Marble Cliffs. Also I am long since not the Chatwin fan I once was.
Oct 10, 2010 James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 the widow of the Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, collected in What Am I Doing Here?, the last book he published before he died:
"White metal fastenings glittered among the brown stumps of her teeth. A cigaret
Yazmina-Michele de Gaye
i have always liked Bruce Chatwin, there is a particular hard cover coffee table style book of his photographs, which appeals to me as i too am an avid traveller and photographer. However i had intended to make a note of all the famous names mentioned in this series of wonderful adventures, name-dropping par excellence! The other point is that i feel rather chuffed by the fact that i knew all those so-called celebs he mentioned...not personally of course, but in reference to each, i didn't feel ...more
Aug 20, 2009 Madhuri rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A splendid collection of stories/essays/thoughts, collected over years of extensive travel that Chatwin has done. In this small book, there are so many different people to meet, so many different cultures to get a whiff of, and so many circumstances to puzzle over. Chatwin is caught in the middle of coup in an African nation, haunted by Yetis in high Himalyan peaks, and has a love-hate relationship with Indira Gandhi during her campaign to return to power after the emergency. And all of it is ne ...more
Jeffrey Lamoureux
Chatwin is impossibly cultured, and it shows. His writing is fantastic and the encounters he describes always entertaining and informative. This is hardly an autobiography in any formal sense; one comes away with little detail of his life, and far too little of his thoughts. I almost wish that he would have elaborated more: on himself, his attitudes, opinions, and world views. Occasionally it's hard to be taken in by his more historical essays, which is why I don't give this book a higher rating ...more
Bruce Chatwin, in turns out, knows how to talk about damn near anything. Whether he's discussing art, describing his travels in West Africa, or having a chat with aging Russian poets, he's a hell of a guide in these short, witty essays, which feature luminaries ranging from Indira Gandhi to Klaus Kinski. I should say that it's nowhere near as brilliant as In Patagonia (a serious candidate for the greatest travelogue of the last century) or Utz (a peculiar, chiseled little novel seemingly designe ...more
Jacob Overmark
Nov 15, 2015 Jacob Overmark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, read-owned
The last essays, travel stories and memories from the hand of Bruce Chatwin.

If you want to get to know one of the most influential travel writers of the 20th century, this is a fine introduction, you definitely will be hungry for more Bruce Chatwin.

Is it relevant today? Certainly.
The description of the post-colonial relationship between France and Algier in "The Very Sad Story of Salah Bougrine" is as relevant as ever.
May 09, 2011 ashok rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Typically entertaining pseudo-fiction collection of travelogues, anecdotes and fables.
The highlight has to be the chapter about Indira Gandhi's post-emergency comeback election campaign. While some of it may be cute invention - the despotic nature of Indira Gandhi in many amusing para-phrases.
Oct 31, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it
The chapter on Werner Herzog directing his film "Cobra Verde", based on Chatwin's "The Viceroy of Ouidah", in Ghana is so amazing and funny that it cured my cold.
Having read "the Viceroy" I then had to watch "Cobra Verde". Of those three works, I'd say Chatwin's sketch on Herzog is the best.
Apr 09, 2013 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a book. What a writer. Such an eye for detail, such a brilliant man but he's not in your face about it, except when he can perfectly date an ancient artifact from Iran. Amazing journalist.
Pablo Renzi
il capitolo su Herzog è meraviglioso, ma credo che lo sarebbe anche se l'avesse scritto un altro. tutto diventa più bello quando c'è di mezzo Werner Herzog e quel malato di genio di Kinsky.
Oct 11, 2016 Ian rated it liked it
I have read and hugely enjoyed some of Mr Chatwin's oeuvre (On the Black Hill and Songlines in particular) and was keen to fill in the gaps. However, this was something of a curate's egg of a book. It is a collection of essays and interviews, published posthumously and so it's no surprise that I enjoyed some parts much more than others.

Travel writing is how Mr Chatwin made his name and it's the travel sections of this that are by far the most enjoyable - the section on Afghanistan is heartbreaki
Feb 06, 2014 Avik rated it it was ok
An un-remarkable book from a gifted wordsmith. I am quite a fan of Chatwin's brand of travel writing and admire his skills at observing culture and human character, and would prefer to read him any day as compared to, say, Theroux or Thubron or Bryson, but this book is not my cup of tea. First of all, there is a painful lack of coherence - Chatwin hops, skips and jumps from one theme to another in an utterly haphazard fashion and often the reader is left wondering what this guy is up to?! While, ...more
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 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
Oct 26, 2016 NoBeatenPath rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
This is my first Chatwin book, and many people have said that is one of Chatwin's lesser efforts. If so I can't wait to read more of his works. He is an exceptionally good writer, able to capture in one or two sentences complete portraits of characters or places. He manages to combine the mundane with the thrilling, the everyday detail that makes up a personality with the extreme circumstance that shapes them, and his prose is always on the right side of spare while still being supple.
As with an
Jan 14, 2008 L.J. rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: travel essay
Shelves: take-or-leave
Not my favorite Chatwin book and hard to give a truly fair review as many years have passed but finishing this one left me flat and as I had read almost all his books I didn't seem to want to complete my Chatwin literary journey. Collection of stories and only a handful were interesting, not on the level of Songlines or In Patagonia but completely different as a collection book as well. Someone else may find it better than myself.
Joseph Mckenna
Aug 23, 2012 Joseph Mckenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Does anyone do a better job creating vivid imagery with such sparse prose? Chatwin remains one of the most talented and varied authors of his generation. This wide ranging travelogue of his meanderings across the globe gives the reader glimpses of sailors from Patagonia, wolf boys in India, an eyewitness account of a west African revolution, yetis, and so much more. A great read for any fan of Chatwin.
May 12, 2008 Frank rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This collection, like most, ebbed and flowed for me, but overall, worth my time and the 86 cents I forked over for it.

The best piece by far was about Werner Herzog and his crazy friend (Kininski?) making a movie in Africa. Kininski at one point was encouraging the women extras to riot, which they took up with alarming zeal.

The China stuff was good too.

He had a motif examing "nomadism" and the benefits of just walking, which I, in particular, nodded my head along with.

Sep 12, 2009 Maggie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book. Ironically I don't read too many travel books because I don't really find other people's adventures that fascinating unless they're actual guidebooks. I liked Bruce Chatwin's writing style and I thought I could relate to a lot of what his mind was going through when he traveled, although I haven't done nearly as many crazy things as him. Everyone should have a memoire, there's a market for anything these days.
Sep 12, 2014 da-wildchildz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It has been a while since I read any Chatwin, so I decided it was about time I read some more. What Am I Doing Here? is a collection of stories, travelogues, thoughts and essays, which meant I never quite knew what I was getting, when I began another chapter. The chapters were short, which is perfect, when dipping in and out on a commute. Each snapshot was told in Chatwin’s typically amusing, informative and quirky style, which made it a fun and enjoyable read.
Hank Stuever
Vivid memories of reading this by campfire-light on a solo road trip up the California coast in September 1990. I had graduated from college. I had finished a reporting internship at the LA Times. I was free, in a sense, and didn't know what was next. ("What Am I Doing Here," indeed.) The whole world seemed possible and ahead. My copy of the book still smells vaguely of smoke. There really wasn't anyone quite like Chatwin, before or since.
Andrew Burford
This rather eclectic collection of Chatwin's writings is simply a great read and a suitable homage to his craft. The breadth of his travel and experience is made to seem almost ordinary, when clearly the writer was anything but. This was my first reading of Chatwin and was purely by chance that the book came my way, but what a feast of language to savour. Must be serendipity.
Nov 19, 2013 Liana rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was supposed to be an autobiography focused on the author's travels. Instead, it was a combination history book, biographies about other people, with a couple of his own stories thrown in. Most of the chapters in the book have nothing to the with the author at all. There were the rare few stories that were actually worth reading and the only reason that I finished the book.
Jul 30, 2013 Marc rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Verzameling stukjes, recensies, cursiefjes en meer gedegen werkstukken, uitgegeven na de dood van Chatwin. Bijna allemaal al eerder verschenen.
Uiteenlopende onderwerpen, maar opvallend erudiete diversiteit. Sommige stukjes vallen tegen, andere zijn bijzonder inspirerend. De chronologische orde is niet gerespecteerd, wat aanzet tot aanlokkelijk biografisch puzzelwerk.
This was the book that made me fall in love with Chatwin, and, at least for the first time consciously, fall in love with short-stories and essays. It's also the genre that Chatwin was, in my opion, best at - the short, precise look at things or the small thought spun into a whole tale - these stories are brilliant (and I need to reread this).
Oct 27, 2007 Kaarin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this man knows travel.

"The art of journeying contributes towards a sense of physical and mental well-being, while the monotony of prolonged settlement or regular work weaves patterns in the brain that engender fatigue and a sense of personal inadequacy. Much of what ethologists have designated "aggression" is simply an angered response to the frustrations of confinement."
Collection of essays/vignettes/true stories from a prolific traveler and elegant writer. You wonder how this author, who died at 49, managed to get to so many places, many of which either required special access and/or were places most sensible people wouldn’t want to be, while writing so well. A bunch of clear snapshots that don’t try to hard to edify. Good book to take on vacation.
Sep 05, 2016 Peter added it
Shelves: insightful
The story of the LSD episode and related mossadian mischief told in pp36-41 needs to be addressed at/in an appropriate time/setting. I can remember coming across a recommendation sometime ago to read this book, and had always imagined the title being accompanied with a question mark.

#isisdeathcult - p47
Mariano Pallottini
The thesis in this book it is a bit forced but still something in the reader is pushing to believe: the evil in the world is the sedentary life. The human been naturally reveals a spiritualistic approach to the life and a better connection with the beauty of the nature as soon as start a nomad life. It is a child dream? But we love Bruce Chatwin even for this.
Mar 02, 2007 Mickey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Referenced by the Italian film of same name. A collection of essays about traveling, social issues, and the interesting people you meet when you're a journalist traveling around the world. (Sociology; 300 pages)
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Charles Bruce Chatwin was an English novelist and travel writer. He won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel On the Black Hill (1982). In 1972, Chatwin interviewed the 93-year-old architect and designer Eileen Gray in her Paris salon, where he noticed a map of the area of South America called Patagonia, which she had painted. "I've always wanted to go there," Bruce told her. "So have ...more
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“Walking is a virtue, tourism is a deadly sin.” 35 likes
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