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The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor Paperback – January 12, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Just when you may have concluded, like Queen Scheherazade's husband, that you've "heard them all," Barth ( The Tidewater Tales ) proves again how original and entertaining he is. Like many of the author's previous works, his latest blends fantasy, mythology, existentialist wit, bawdy humor and metafictional conceits. But though his opening words declare, "The machinery's rusty," the new novel is a testament both to Barth's undiminished generative powers and to his maturity of vision. In the elaborate plot, a "fifty-plus," "once-sort-of-famous" New Journalist named Simon William Behler is mysteriously transported to the medieval Baghdad of Sindbad the Sailor. Behler--known variously as "Somebody the Sailor," "Baylor" and "Sayyid Bey el-Loor," falls in love with Sindbad's daughter Yasmin and gets enmeshed in Arabian intrigues. The intrigues revolve around such nagging questions as the intactness of Yasmin's virginity, the veracity of Sindbad's tall tales and the whereabouts of a wristwatch Behler needs in order to return home. All this is dealt with in the course of six evenings of storytelling at Sindbad's dinner table. Barth creates whole and engaging characters with his usual wealth of wordplay, allusion and satire. But the novel's greatest achievement is how it connects the conventionally realistic story of Behler's 20th-century life with the outsize and metaphorical world of Sindbad, reflecting in the process on the nature of stories, dreams, voyages and death. BOMC selection; major ad/promo; author tour .
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Simon Behler--or Baylor, as he refers to himself in his countless best-selling books of New Journalism--falls overboard during a cruise retracing the legendary voyages of Sindbad the Sailor and is pulled from the water by contemporaries of the real Sinbad. Trapped in the distant past but never at a loss for words, Behler--or Bey el-Loor, as he is now known--amuses his new friends with his exotic tales: boyhood on Maryland's Eastern Shore, first love, early literary success, marriage, and divorce. Intricately, almost obsessively structured, Barth's latest novel is written in the mature, relaxed, stubbornly long-winded style of The Tidewater Tales (Putnam, 1987). He breaks no new ground here, but fans will enjoy his virtuoso recycling of familiar themes. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/90.
- Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 573 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 12, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385422202
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385422208
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,166,481 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By John Domini on January 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Somebody the Sailor" is the great work of Barth's later career, maybe his greatest story ever. The novel is full of feeling, above all; like all his best work since "End of the Road," it makes a profound and emotional feminist argument. It creates at least three splendid women characters, while exposing the cultures and systems that limit them. And it does this within a splendid, ever-ingenious plot -- straddling fantasy and relaism, utterly devoid of cliche or secondhand thinking -- that comes finally to the powerful subject of mortality, of coming to terms with our own demise. Brilliant, provocative, soulful, far-reaching, this book will outlast nine-tenths of Amazon's current stock.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
As I glanced over the previous reviews of this book I was struck (once again) with my own oscillating love and hate for this book. To begin with I must admit I believe this to be one of Barth's greatest novels and Barth himself to be (when at his best) one of the "technically" greatest writers of all time. He is also one of the most supremely aggravating novelists ever to put pen to paper. Yes, he deserves much of the somewhat narrow-minded criticism applied by my fellow reviewers. And yes, those who gush uncritically about this book (or most of his others) are likely letting him get away with more than he has earned.
Yes, this book SHOULD strike the reader as sexist (male chauvanistic is not really accurate) and yes, it would strike me, at least, as quite surprising if a woman were able to swallow this piece of literature without at least some digestive malaise. But (although, I speak as a male) I think it should be said that it is pretty evident (Barth's narrator admits it more than once) that Barth is really writing about his "Muse" and not literal women. The voyages of the story are the narrator's life voyages of lost and found identity and the various female characters are really one shape shifting "Lady Soul", sister, and twin. And yet, to me, this does not excuse Barth's utter usurping of these female characters. They are "men's women", not characters with any autonomous femininity and do not rightfully belong to the world of Woman or the female imagination.
In fact, I found the book to have a flavor of pornography, albeit pornography suited to a somewhat more sophisticated, middle-aged man's tastes. Half of the time I read, I balked at this lack of emotional complexity and conflict with the Other and its substitution with mid-life crisis/adolescent fantasy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Harvey Ardman on March 13, 2010
Format: Paperback
Do not approach this book thinking you will come away feeling satisfied. You won't. You will be impressed by the writing. Every sentence is well-crafted. You will be impressed by the wit. Parts of this book are truly funny. You will be taken with the author's fertile imagination, and tickled by what other reviewers are calling the "pornographic" parts--that's much too harsh a word, I think. will find it tedious reading at times. You will easily enjoy parts of it--the parts set in modern times and wish there were more of them. You will be amused, for a time, with Sinbad's adventures. But you will, I think, decide that there are too many of them, they go on for too long and they don't contribute as much as the author thinks they do.

And when you put the book down, you will, if you're like me, utter the single comment: "Argh!" You will find the ending ambiguous and unsatisfying. We are led by the hand to one last great trip. The trip begins...and then the book runs out of pages.

This is not, I am afraid, the Sot-Weed Factor. The author is a fine, even great writer, but this is far from his best work.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on November 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
I'm still not quite sure to think of this book, having now finished it. I enjoyed it but I don't know how I'm going to think of it six months from now, if at all. It's an interestingly told tale, using the voyages of Sinbad to frame the story of a middle aged man's life in the present day . . . and I liked the ruminations on growing up and getting older (and older) and the Arabian setting, accurate or not, was certainly entertaining at least. For all its length the book is actually very tightly written, the voyages and interludes remaining pretty close to the point and with very few actual digressions, the plot falls apart and comes together neatly (as neat as it gets) and unfolds at nearly the right pace. Still, this does feel a bit like the work of a craftsman and not the work of someone really pushing . . . the prose although well written doesn't leap out at me except at certain moments and the story very rarely engaged me emotionally, the main character Simon was fairly three dimensional and Sinbad is displayed warts and all but everyone else was basically there to move the plot forward . . . I guess I'm comparing this to the Tidewater Tales, which why that book was frustrating at times because it was all over the place and rambled every other page, there was a sense of exuberance to it that I found myself responding to. Here I watch all of Barth's literary tricks and don't find myself that moved at all. The early scenes are probably the best, showing Simon's young life and a time long gone and some of the later Arabian voyage scenes are fun and the whole story is well constructed as a piece, his mediations on growing old alternate between humor and resignation, it's populated with loads of interesting set pieces and never fails to be anything less than interesting . . .Read more ›
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