Chatwin chooses a delightfully original way to present the history of Buenos Aires, where he starts his journey. Using the surnames in its telephone directory, he defines the city as a place of exile and immigration. There is a much more comprehensive history here.
When he arrived in December 1974, the city was in turmoil. Juan Perón had died five months previously, there had been a massacre at the airport, and the military were plotting to overthrow his widow, Isabel Martínez de Perón. Once in Patagonia, Chatwin alludes to the difficult political situation on several occasions. It is not his theme, but the shadows are present.