The Songlines

by Bruce Chatwin. Viking, $18.95.
Mr. Chatwin’s desire to learn about the mythology of Australian aborigines has led to a book that is composed partly of sharp sketches of people and conditions around the desert town of Alice Springs, partly of a description of the musical system by which aborigines maintain tradition and communication across the continent, and partly of quotations and reflections in support of the author’s belief that mankind is designed by nature to keep traveling. As Mr. Chatwin himself is a habitual wanderer from Patagonia to the Soviet Union, his argument can be construed as an apologia pro vita sua, but it is presented with such charm, liveliness, and variety that even the most rootbound reader should enjoy it. Localization as the source of all evil is an idea too provocative to ignore.