Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin

Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin

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by Bruce Chatwin

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The definitive collection of correspondence from a legendary writer, providing new perspectives on his extraordinary life.

The celebrated author of such beloved works as In Patagonia and The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin was a nomad whose desire for adventure and enlightenment was made wholly evident by his writing. A man of intense energy and


The definitive collection of correspondence from a legendary writer, providing new perspectives on his extraordinary life.

The celebrated author of such beloved works as In Patagonia and The Songlines, Bruce Chatwin was a nomad whose desire for adventure and enlightenment was made wholly evident by his writing. A man of intense energy and chameleonlike complexity, he was, in his life as in his art, forever in quest of the exotic and the unexpected. He moved at ease within diverse art, literary, and social circles, and his lifelong travels took him to the farthest-flung corners of Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia.

This marvelous selection of letters-to his wife, Elizabeth; to his parents, Charles and Margharita; and to friends, including Patrick Leigh Fermor, James Ivory, Paul Theroux, and Susan Sontag-reveals a passionate man and a storyteller par excellence, spinning the narrative of his life from his first week of school to his untimely death. Written with the verve and sharpness of expression that first marked him as a writer of singular talent, Chatwin's letters provide a vivid record of his changing interests and concerns, as well as chronicling his lifelong restlessness and the gestation of his books. Under the Sun is the closest readers will get to an autobiography by this exceptional literary talent.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Celebrated English travel writer and novelist Chatwin (In Patagonia) died of AIDS 20 years ago; he was only 48. His letters—from such far-flung locales as Sweden, Afghanistan, his beloved Greece, Turkey, Africa, and, of course, Patagonia—are lovingly compiled and thoroughly annotated, with indispensable narrative (explaining, for instance, Chatwin’s sudden conversion to Eastern Christianity) by Chatwin’s widow and his biographer. Given to impulsive life and career changes, Chatwin discusses the full range of life from the mundane to the spiritual, from his writing to his dislike of his own “pretty boy” looks. He charmed or intimately knew such cultural movers and shakers as Christopher Isherwood, Susan Sontag, Jasper Johns, Edmund White, and many others. There were at least two serious long-term relationships with men (one with filmmaker James Ivory). Yet the Chatwins remained married and always intellectual partners; toward the end of his life, Chatwin writes, despite marital difficulties, “neither of us have loved anyone else.” (Feb. 7)
Library Journal
Bruce Chatwin (1940–89), famous primarily for his travel writing, was a romantic, an art expert, and a storyteller. As this book's coeditor, novelist and Chatwin biographer Shakespeare writes, "He tells not only the half truth, but a truth and a half." This book reveals Chatwin's widely varied pursuits, the ever-expanding interests of a man who worked his way up at Sotheby's from teenage porter to resident expert on impressionist art, and company director. Disillusioned with the world of commercial fine art, he entered the University of Edinburgh to study archaeology but left without a degree to begin in earnest his peripatetic travels that led to his most widely read books, such as In Patagonia. Later, Chatwin was accused of inserting fictionalized characters and situations into his travel writing. Now his letters—to his parents; his wife, Elizabeth, coeditor of this collection; his mother-in-law; or other writers—may offer his truest voice, from terse and emphatic postcard messages to letters that sparkle with description and anticipation. VERDICT Chatwin's verve and imagination are clear here. As in his life, there is scant reference to his sexuality or contraction of AIDS. What is included provides a memorable profile of a compelling writer. For all readers of Chatwin's writing.—Robert Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN
Kirkus Reviews

Bruce Chatwin's (1940–1989) wife Elizabeth and his authorized biographer Shakespeare compile the literary vagabond's correspondence.

Chatwin, acclaimed for artistic conflations of fact and fiction and reportage and reflection—e.g., In Patagonia(1977) and On the Black Hill (1982)—was the archetype of the travelling Briton with the temperament of an esthete culture snob—at least that's the tone of this copious collection. The few long, carefully composed letters are nearly choked by the vagrant postcards and instructions to his spouse from an absent husband. With so much ephemeral, quotidian chaff, starting at age eight until his death of AIDS four decades later, the late author's considered pieces—which display his celebrated acute ear and antic eye—are too rare. Chatwin's correspondence proceeds apace from schooldays, when things were sometimes "absolutely wizard" and continued education as a porter at Sotheby's, where things were less exciting. Then came marriage and study at the University of Edinburgh where, as at the auction house, the author experienced disillusion. Always, there were friends and acquaintances to whom to write; some were famous (Jacqueline Onassis, Susan Sontag, Paul Theroux), others less so—all are identified here in largely bothersome footnotes. Chatwin covered many topics in his letters, including upcoming plans, frequent complaints, money, weather, gossip and, most often, wandering. (Interestingly, a recurring theme was the author's feckless attempt at a major text on a history of the nomadic life). As his career flourished, the author wrote of his travels to Abidjan, Sikkim, Málaga, Warsaw, Vienna, Florence, Sydney, New Delhi, New York, Dahomey (now Benin), Yaddo et al., with the occasional dateline from home at Wotton-under-Edge. In a sad, moving coda, the wandering ended, with Chatwin deluded and bedridden in Nice. Unfortunately, there's little here to enhance the writer's reputation.

A talented author's peripatetic self-regard.

Dwight Garner
…a bristling new collection…[that] contains letters written across four decades, from the time Chatwin was a boy in an English boarding school to letters dictated from his deathbed…One of the pleasures of a good book of letters is watching a voice develop and ripen over time, and Chatwin's does. It grows lovelier, grainier, more confident, more wicked.
—The New York Times
Thomas Mallon
Under the Sun will be absorbing and essential to Chatwin's devotees. We never see the author finally coming to terms with himself, but we do see a man catching his own contradictions on the wing.
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
"It seems that Chatwin is narrating his own life, from the false starts, unsatisfying jobs, unfinished studies and unpublished writing to the precipitate moves, the eruptions of boredom and the infatuations with people, with places, with ideas. These letters burst with affectionate salutations, explosions of rage, sudden enthusiasm."
— Paul Theroux, Daily Telegraph

"A masterpiece of sympathetic and diligent editing, absolutely fascinating and larded with acerbic comments from Nicholas Shakespeare's joint editor, Elizabeth Chatwin."
— Spectator

"As Under the Sun poignantly reveals, when he died Chatwin's extravagant writing gifts were gelling into a wider and deeper understanding of the human condition and the world we inhabit."
— Sunday Express

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.90(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Bruce Chatwin was born in 1940 and was the author of In Patagonia, The Viceroy of Ouidah, On the Black Hill, The Songlines, and Utz. The last three he considered works of fiction. His other books include the essay collections What Am I Doing Here and The Anatomy of Restlessness. Chatwin died in Nice, France, on January 18, 1989.

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Under the Sun: The Letters of Bruce Chatwin 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wonder whether anyone else has read these letters and longed to meet Elizabeth. Her husband may have been brilliant and handsome, but he also comes across as terminally self-absorbed. In many instances he seems to treat her like a lackey, and he certainly was expensive to keep, even if he was seldom around. No wonder she got interested in breeding sheep. -- catwak
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
seaagain More than 1 year ago
When I finished reading, I wanted to write Mrs. Chatwin a letter thanking her for sharing her husband's life in such an intimate way. It is obviously a work of love. Mr.Chatwin's letters from his childhood to his death are touching (he would not appreciate the description, my guess) and his genius is obvious.