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The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  603 ratings  ·  45 reviews
This is the story of Simon William Behler, a popular New Journalist whose career has peaked. In 1980 he is lost overboard off the coast of Sri Lanka while attempting to retrace, with his lover, the legendary voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.
Hardcover, 573 pages
Published 1991 by Little Brown and Company
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
At abebooks one can purchase the dust jacket for Women and Men for $US10.* Yesterday I purchased The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor for $US6.50 because my reading copy a) had no dust jacket and b) had a broken spine. With that bit of housekeeping taken care of I have now replaced one signed 1st/1st with a better signed 1st/1st. $US3.25 for a dust jacket? Sure.

This little Barthian novel is seemingly oft over-looked, overshadowed as it is by the Golden Age of Barthian Fiction--The Sot-Weed
Ned Rifle
I was originally interested in Barth by reading about The Sot-Weed Factor, and a glance at the descriptions of some of his other books merely deepened this curiosity. This, then, just happened to be the first one I came across, and mighty pleased I was - having, as I do, a fondness for the 1001 Nights, and Sindbad (view spoiler) ...more
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Along with The Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat-Boy The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor belongs among my most favourite John Barth’s novels – it is incredibly flowery and lacey.
“Resail those voyages: my first, to that floating island that was a monstrous fish; my second, to the valley of serpents and diamonds, the island of rocs and rhinoceri; my third, to the mountain of apes and cannibal giants; my fourth, most dreadful of all, to God knows where, where I myself was obliged to deal death or
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
Strange that I read 3 or 4 of Barth's bks & then? Waited 30 or more yrs to read another one? He taught (or teaches? - don't even know if he's still alive?) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore but I never tried to meet him?! Even though I lived in Baltimore City for 18 yrs?!

At 1st, this bk was almost a sure 5-star. It was almost uncanny reading about an environment I didn't exactly grow up in but close enuf. What really cinched it was learning that "Chinese Cigar" trees (aka just
Nathan Jerpe
Slow going at times, but the structure is dazzling.

A storytelling contest at a table for ten.

Seven voyages of Sinbad vs. Seven voyages of Simon Baylor. (Bey-el-Loor?)

But which tales are fantasy? The ones that come from 11th c Baghdad? Or the 20th c Eastern Shore ones? Or both? But Last Voyage is not a puzzle so much as a game. All tales have frames. Any tale is fantastic, to the right listener.

Baudy, rauchy, funny, tiresome, good old John Barth. Here, more than thirty years after The Sot Weed
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This one was actually pretty straightforward for a Barth novel. The complexity is there, but it doesn't make for such troublesome reading as usual. Interesting to have Sinbad tales interwoven with the story of a Maryland man born shortly before WWII, and then have those stories further intertwine until meeting. Definitely an interesting one.
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In some ways you can say that Barths later novels always tell the same story - middle aged writer man goes sailing with somewhat younger wife, various more or less metaphorical disasters happen, a lot of sex and a lot of storytelling goes on. More importantly, though, they are also always about telling the same story again, what the act of re-telling means and does to the story and the re-teller.

After having summed up his first seven books in the sprawling, mad Letters (an epic meditation on
Simon Mcleish
Originally published on my blog here in August 1999.

John Barth's writing, though always worth reading, suffers from several faults. The most important of these is perhaps the way that everything else he has written pales into insignificance next to Giles Goat-Boy. In that novel, he handles his themes more tellingly, with a background more extraordinary, than in the other novels he has written, and by making it partly an allegorical account of the Cold War increases its interest.

A second problem
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
It initially seemed as if The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor is going to establish itself as cotton candy reading, which is to say, not very substantial in any meaningful way but enjoyable in the short-term, even as the sweetness and lightness gets to be overwhelming at times. During an initial stretch of what was mostly table-setting in each of the two dominant narrative strands of the book, Barth shows off all the tricks at his disposal, extending the traditional role of the establishing ...more
“The high ground of traditional realism, brothers, is where I stand! Give me familiar, substantial stuff: rocs and rhinoceri, ifrits and genies and flying carpets, such as we all drank in our mother’s milk and shall drink—Inshallah!—till our final swallow. Let no outlander imagine that such crazed fabrications as machines that mark the hour or roll themselves down the road will ever take the place of our homely Islamic realism, the very capital of narrative—from which, if I may say so, all
Nov 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book was not an easy read. It had sooo many different factors going on that at times it felt like I was in 'uncharted' waters with no form of navigation.

I picked it up because I was intrigued about the concept of merging the infamous voyages of Sindbad the Sailor with a modern day variation. But honestly I just couldn't get into it.

Sindbad's stories are funny, witty and adventurous, he took your imagination someplace. Simon Baylor's stories were dull and I could not meld his life-stories
Feb 22, 2009 rated it liked it
You cannot think of the "campus novel" without thinking of Giles Goat-Boy or the historical epic without The Sot-weed Factor. Barth uses classical story and form to play with the notion of story telling. Here he uses the 1001 Arabian Nights and, in particular, the voyages of Sinbad to do just that. The novel's modern day reality story becomes myth as at the same time the mythic story becomes reality. While perhaps not as great a novel as the previous mentioned Giles or Sot-weed Factor, it is ...more
Christopher Sutch
While I suffered a severe disaffection during the middle portion of this book, the sheer genius of the thing didn't strike me until about 2/3 of the way through, once the final character and plot twists finally began to become clear. Truly an awesome work, Barth's own _Thousand Nights and a Night_. The ending is especially moving. My favorite Barth work is still _The Tidewater Tales_ but this is very good stuff indeed.
Michael Eck
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dozen interrelated stories, nested within each other and often retold from a different POV; a host of narrators each claiming to be the center of the narrative and God’s favorite and each dispensing with minor characters (and if yer Gods favorite then the others are all minor) ruthlessly. Like a jazz improvisation, themes and phrases and stories repeated and recurring but all changed and twisted.

And the theory that, as yer life flashes before you just before you die, what you remember—if yer
Nicholas Beck
Aug 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
A rip-roaring witty dance of storytelling. Intertwining the stories of Sindbad the Sailor with John Beylor (one of his many names) who lands himself smack bang in the midst of Sindbad's home/travels and sundry shenanigans, Beylor must attempt to find his way back to 20th Century America. A tour de force story within story structure made me marvel at Barth's ingenuity and kept me entertained through a lengthy piece of storytelling itself!
Rossrn Nunamaker
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I am admittedly biased on this review, because I got to meet John Barth, hear him read from this work and discuss it with a small audience when he toured in support of its release.

I went to a local college with my father, who had Barth as a professor at Penn State for Freshman Composition.

As a result, I wanted and remember really liking this book, even though I wouldn't rank it in my top three of Barth's it is close.
Seth the Zest
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2017
I liked the layers of this book and found it worthwhile (it is rather long and dense) with one exception. I don't really understand why Yasmin loves Somebody the Sailor. They're rather different in age and I'm not sure why she would have anything to do with him after the events of voyage six. Somebody's six voyage that is, not Sindbad's.
Sep 26, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The Voyages of an American travel books writer.
Magically send back to the times of the Arabian Nights. Falls in Love with daughter of Sindbad.
Clever but boring. A chapter of his personal past including childhood is always followed by present (in the fairy past) with some recount of a Sindbad voyage.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant fantastical novel pitting two eras worth of stories against each other. Beautifully written, classic Barth
To smart for me.
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Behler, a contemporary Maryland journalist of minor renown, finds himself in medieval Baghdad, trading stories with Sindbad the Sailor, snogging Sindbad's daughter, and uncovering family secrets and webs of deceit. Two stories unfold, then intertwine: one, Simon's melancholic life-story in Maryland, told through a series of vignettes at key turning points in his life; and two, Sindbad's journeys and the relations between Sindbad and his family, lovers, and neighbors.

The book is a marvelous
Paul Cornelius
Barth's novel appeared just as the last great era of books and things bookish was coming to an end. And nobody was more in tune with the 1980s and early 1990s postmodern obsession than John Barth. Hard to believe that such an era actually existed, where arguing over literature was a thing of some importance, where the direction of the novel seemed paramount. Now, those concerns have collapsed into the salons of the "good" and "superior." Used to be that even a mid range American city would have ...more
Nov 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My favorite of John Barth's novels, and despite the story-within-story-within-story (the outermost of which only brackets the first and last couple of pages), one of his most straightforward narratives.

I read this years ago and I'm due for another read. I remember getting unexpectedly emotional at the ending, which surprised me. A beautiful tale, beautifully written.

I think of this book like I think of Umberto Eco's The Name Of The Rose. In that book, your enjoyment is heightened by having
Jan 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating blend of the modern and the medieval, and in this case, medieval Bagdad, as in the Arabian Nights, and specifically Sindbad the Sailor. Following, Somebody, Simon, Baylor, the readers navigate with Somebody through his childhood in rural America, several awkward relationships and love trials, struggles with his (writing) career, and (the fun part) time and space. It has some wonderful central themes including the nature of storytelling, imagination, and even coming to ...more
Mar 11, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At least twice as long as it needed to be, this is a book with a great premise and some masterful writing, diluted by tedious and often off-putting genre conventions.

The genres in question are folktale and aging-intellectual-has-one-last-youthful-lay. The latter isn't my favorite, even when well written, as it often is here. The over-the-top outdated folk style brings with it unsavory obsession with women's virginity, rape, and virility—none of this was as enjoyably silly to me as it is in
Apr 05, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Can't get through it. Since it was introduced to me two years ago, I have tried to penetrate its mystery. But until I have solid time to devote to it, I have to put it back in the to-read shelf.

I'm about 1/2 way through and it's been 8 months since I last picked it up. By now, what I remember of the story within a story is fractured and broken. Useless information to go back to the book with.

It's an intriguing tale of loss and love and narrative construction. But I'm unsure what the story is
Jan 02, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled a bit with the number of stars to give this book. I love Barth's books. And this book was certainly unlike anything I've read. But that was almost a problem. It's so imaginative and so out there, that at times it's close to being a mess. However, Barth does keep it from going over that edge and becoming a complete mess. In a lot of ways I really liked it. In other ways it frustrated me and took a long time to finish. But I still say that Barth is one of the most amazing and funniest ...more
Jun 16, 2015 rated it liked it
I'll be chewing on this for a while. I'm sure I'll read some essays on it because there were times when I'm sure I was missing something. I liked it, but I've been reading it for almost a year on and off, so it definitely wasn't captivating. Then why finish it at all? I'm not good at putting books away once begun. I didn't dislike it though. This review is more about me than the book, sorry.

Barth plays with stories and different perspectives of the same story, which I do enjoy. Might have
May 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: My hard core fiction/fantasy lovers
Recommended to Barbara by: I liked the picture on the cover
I have read this book twice. It is not an easy read. It is very complicated, but if you like a literary challenge then I highly recommend it. I thought the Sinbad parts were hilarious and the narrator parts were more serious. There are some really great contrasts. It is a really "out there" tale. Warning: some women feel that is is very sexist. I can see how that might be taken but I loved the story anyway. Read it and be prepared for one hell of a voyage.
Scott Connelly
Apr 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An intricate odyssey expertly told. Barth explores the nature of selfhood and playfully undermines the reader's expectations of fiction and fact. Throughout, Barth interweaves two entirely disparate and seemingly incompatible narrative worlds, and does so with insight and humour.
There were sections that I felt dragged unnecessarily, and the end felt like a bit of a fizzle (its hard to know what I expected instead).
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John Simmons Barth is an American novelist and short-story writer, known for the postmodernist and metafictive quality of his work.

John Barth was born in Cambridge, Maryland, and briefly studied "Elementary Theory and Advanced Orchestration" at Juilliard before attending Johns Hopkins University, receiving a B.A. in 1951 and an M.A. in 1952 (for which he wrote a thesis novel, The Shirt of Nessus).