Sequels to a Patagonian Journal (page 3)
Sequels to a Patagonian Journal
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  Patagonian ire was still in evidence when English journalist John Pilkington came calling some fifteen years after Chatwin. The descendent of one English estancia owner, whom Chatwin had implied had participated in the hunting of Indians in 1900, reported having considered suing the writer. The hunting of Indians by estancieros, of course, was not unheard of, so Chatwin might have been close to the mark.
     In her 1997 memoir, With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer, Clapp explains that Chatwin’s sketches are idiosyncratic short stories:

    Nobody reading In Patagonia could mistake it for an attempt to give a comprehensive or balanced view of its characters: it is a series of quick-fire, impressionistic pen-portraits written by someone who is clearly drawn to the unexpected, the self-contradictory, the sharp edged — and who likes to turn a tale in a small space.

In an 1980 interview, Chatwin told Argentine journalist Uki Goñi that his “temperament” was towards “being entertained and seeing an opportunity when you met one of these characters and pursue it. The whole of this journey was like a sort of pursuit, not only for this ridiculous piece of skin . . . but as it developed it became chasing one story, or one set of characters, after another.”
     By the time Giménez got on the trail, some of the characters Chatwin had sketched had died. Among those still living, some had strong opinions about In Patagonia, even if they’d never read it. But Giménez sensed a mellowing on the subject of Chatwin’s sparky imagination because, the gospel truth or not, it was generating tourism. He was not such a blackguard after all. In any event, Giménez found that though Chatwin’s poetic license-takings had attained almost legendary proportions, they were not as frequent as was believed. (As Chatwin himself put it, “there weren’t too many.”)
     Giménez believes “what harmed the most was not what was written but how it was written . . . a description of a person in one or two paragraphs — as occurs in the majority of cases — is always partial, and then it would be very difficult for someone to conform to what was written about them.”
Whatever the Patagonians may think, Chatwin’s book is the most widely read work about South America’s bright-skied south. Judged on its own terms — that is, as a collage of personal, highly charged, and sometimes invented impressions of the people and places of the zone — it is a literary triumph. And it has won a permanent audience, remaining in print almost a quarter century after its first appearance. Dusty sun-burned backpackers troop Patagonia like breviary-toting pilgrims, clutching Chatwin’s now classic nontravel book. If Chatwin’s Patagonia is not precisely there, that’s beside the point.

POSTSCRIPT: Adrian Gimenez Hutton died in a plane crash in April 2001, en route from Buenos Aires to Patagonia.

Daniel Buck, is a contributing editor of South American Explorer and a contributor to Américas. "Sequels to a Patagonian Journal" was originally published in the March 2000 Américas.
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