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WHAT AM I DOING HERE by Bruce Chatwin (Penguin: $9.95)

August 19, 1990|CHARLES SOLOMON

The last book by the author of "In Patagonia" and "The Songlines" is a collection of miscellaneous short pieces. Bruce Chatwin's profiles have a vitality that conveys the personality of the subjects, particularly the interview with the aged Madeleine Vionnet. But the essays on the visual arts lack the spontaneous ease of his other writing; Chatwin seems unsure of himself and nervously documents every assertion he makes. The sections on travel showcase the writer at his best, capturing the essence of a family dinner in Yunan or life in a small village in Tibet (where he investigates the rumors of Yeti ) in a few well-chosen words. A trip down the Volga with a group of German veterans culminates at Stalingrad, with the lugubrious spectacle of former enemies mourning their dead. Chatwin died in 1989 at age 47, of a rare disease he contracted in Asia, and the art of travel writing is the poorer for his passing.

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