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The author of The Brendan Voyage (1978), casting about for another legendary mariner to follow, found one in Sindbad the Sailor--but neither the material nor Severin's use of it is on a par with the Brendan enterprise. To start with, there's no mystery: it's long been known that Sindbad's adventures are based on the journeyings of medieval Arab traders and navigators. Also: Severin's retellings of those adventures--supposedly the book's inspiration--are flat and perfunctory. And while he evinces more enthusiasm for the real-life Arab voyagers, he does little to connect them to the legendary Sindbad. That leaves, as reader-bait, Severin's own voyage--in a period-boat, with a crew of 20--from Oman to China by way of Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Oman's Minister of Culture, who scooped up the project at the outset and gave it carte blanche, gets appropriately stunned acknowledgement. Research questions arise--like the date double-ended Arab ships appeared? The search for authentic materials leads to the forests of Malabar; for craftsmen with the old skills, to a handful of Laccadive Islanders. There are mishaps at sea (storms, doldrums, a broken mainspar), interactions aboard (a landlubberly European photographer provides comic relief), a gala Chinese reception at journey's end. And Severin himself is blessedly free of posturing, refreshingly natural in talking to and about non-Europeans. But he so often seems absent-minded--picking up and dropping narrative threads at random; telegraphing his punches or trailing off inconclusively. Short on coherence, momentum, or historical interest, by comparison with the last outing; but an agreeable go for antique-boat enthusiasts.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1982
Publisher: Putnam