The New Adventures of Sinbad the Sailor by gifted young Algerian novelist Salim Bachi is the story of a modern-day Odysseus, living and loving his away across Europe with a sceptical eye and a cynical tongue: a truly original take on the Thousand and One Nights, and every bit as sexy.
I knew every promontory, every valley and every hill in this realm of pleasures and exotic fragrances…She oozed a delicate, heavy liquor. Her skin smelled of jasmine in the morning and amber at night. Her parted thighs opened into a welcoming darkness redolent of the lingering smell of damp grass.
Salim Bachi’s Sinbad is also an Arab, and a buccaneering one at that. In the guise of a hawker of unconsidered trifles – everything from multi-coloured handkerchiefs to Moroccan slippers (made in China…) – he sails from Algeria as an illegal immigrant to southern Europe. So begins his romping satire on 21st century western politics and social mores. Watching Italian television was like abandoning all hope, the way Dante had before the gates of his Inferno, he comments when in Rome, deriding TV as ancient games updated for modern tastes:
… instead of Christians providing the entertainment, a collection of poor sods paraded their private lives before millions of spectators. In between bloody sparring matches, young ladies, who were half-naked and preferably blonde, strutted around and commented….in shocked, strident tones.
From the Sorbonne to the Villa Medici, from Messina to Madrid, Sinbad dissects the glitz and the grime of European culture, philosophising all the while from the bed of his latest conquest, always beautiful, always friendly and always yielding. But this book is much more than just a travelogue of sexual conquest: there is irony, trenchant criticism and deep insight into what makes both Western and Arab societies tick.
Salim Bachi (b. 1971) is one of the most remarkable new voices of North Africa writing in French. He was born in Algeria and studied literature in Paris and now lives in France. His first book Le Chien d Ulysse (2001) was awarded the Goncourt du Premier Roman; his fourth book, Le Silence de Mahomet (2008), a fictionalised biography of the prophet Mohammed, was shortlisted for the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Renaudot. The Silence of Mohammed was published in English by Pushkin Press in 2010.