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Bruce Chatwin


Bruce Chatwin had a long fascination with our urge to surround ourselves with possessions. Utz is his story of a man who did so more than most of us. Kaspar Joachim Utz came from the minor nobiltiy in Czechoslovakia. With the coming of communism, he ends up in a small flat in Prague, but is allowed to keep in it the collection of Meissen porcelain which he has accumulated. He has money in foreign banks and so has the possibility of building a new life (and porcelain collection) for himself in the west, but somehow he just can't bring himself to do it.

The story is told from the point of view of a journalist (clearly representing Chatwin himself) who met Utz for just one evening. This means that we don't just get a description of Utz's life, rather it is presented as the result of possibly poor memory and of deduction and speculation. Did Utz have a moustache? Did he in fact perform some service for the state on his visits to the west? And what was his relationship with women, in particular his maid Marta? Set against the backdrop of communism (including the Prague Spring), in this novel Chatwin shows that money and politics aren't necessarily the most important things in our lives. Rather he highlights the confusing tangle of circumstances that motivate us to do the things we do.

See also :Lost Utz art to be auctioned  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews