In Patagonia is at heart a personal quest to find the origins of boyhood fascination, “a piece of brontosaurus” supposedly recovered from a thawed glacier in Punta Arenas by Chatwin’s seafaring cousin. At first Chatwin’s prose seems uniform like Hemingway, only boring. But his subtle sentences sneak up on you, and their economy allows him to surprise, leaving an indelible impression. Take Walter Rauff, exiled Nazi and inventor of the lethal Mobile Gas Truck: “There is a man in Punta Arenas, dreams pine forests, hums Lieder, wakes each morning and sees the black strait. He drives to a factory that smells of sea. All about him are scarlet crabs, crawling, then steaming. He hears the shells crack and the claws breaking, sees the sweet white flesh packed firm in metal cans….Does he remember that other smell, of burning?” Chatwin’s haunting images stay with you, reminding you that this is one messed-up, astonishing world.
Dan is an explorer for The Outbound and founder of The Proper Function, an outdoor editorial. He is passionate about exploration and can’t stay put for more than a week.