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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Knights of Arabia

San Antonio

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To purchase Knights of Arabia

Title: Knights of Arabia
Author: San Antonio
Genre: Novel
Written: 1964 (Eng. 1969)
Length: 176 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Knights of Arabia - US
Knights of Arabia - UK
Knights of Arabia - Canada
Bérurier au sérail - Canada
Bérurier au sérail - France
Heisse Tage im Serail - Deutschland
Un harem per Berù - Italia
  • French title: Bérurier au sérail
  • Translated by Cyril Buhler
  • Volume 57 in the series (though San Antonio does refer to: "this my 56th novel" in the novel)

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Our Assessment:

B : simplistic and over-the-top adventure, but the tone and approach still winning

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Knights of Arabia is probably one of the sillier San-Antonio novels, and one of the more exotic, sending the hero of the eponymous series to an oil-rich desert state in the Middle East -- named, in typical San Antonio fashion, the Eunuchate of Cruciallah. A plane flying over the territory had made an unplanned stop there to deal with some supposed technical issues, but after the plane was repaired two passengers were found to be missing; they could not be located, and the plane took off without them. The two -- a French secret agent and a bodyguard -- were carrying important documents; the agents the French secret service sent after them to find out what happened were killed -- and now the plan is to send some policemen there in disguise to investigate, infiltrating the country as traders. Superintendent San Antonio is to lead the group; he winds up with familiar hands Bérurier and (usefully Arabic-speaking) Pinaud as his support (and/or baggage) for the mission -- along with a crook they nabbed, a Cruciallahite native they call Flimflam (who, however, would rather do anything else than return to the motherland, and whom it takes a lot to get (and, for a long time, keep) even vaguely on board).
       The plan seems rather ambitious and unrealistic, and, away from familiar French soil, even San Antonio isn't sanguine about their chances for success (or survival):

     For the first time in my career, I'm ready to admit defeat before the party's even started, I'm ready to call the whole crazy venture off before we even had a crack at the other side.
       Once in the area, they have to make the last leg of the journey by dromedary, across a vast stretch of almost nothing but sand. They face the predictable hardships, with impetuous Bérurier seeing to it that they're soon short of anything liquid (as he will, and does, consume literally anything -- and generally to excess). They do reach their destination, and successfully sell themselves as merchants -- with Bérurier even managing to off-load the stinky Camembert cheese he brought along to flog.
       Things go south, as they must, but San Antonio's first visit to the local prison cells is brief, and they manage to convince the local dictator, Emir Oberrat, that they're entertainers and he puts them up very nicely so that they can be part of the show at a big festival he's planning. San Antonio is a crack shot, so he can put on a shooting display, and Flimflam can do a magic act. Bérurier is sold as a master wrestler -- and he's really put to the test when Oberrat pits him against a near-seven foot monster. The stakes are high: the winner gets a thousand klitoris (the local currency, apparently), the loser gets castrated.
       Participating in the festival is just cover for the behind-the-scenes activities San Antonio and friends get up to. Complicating matters are the temptations of Oberrat's strictly hands-off harem -- especially the lovely Lola, whom San Antonio promises to help escape when they leave --, the foreign elements (Soviet types), and all of Oberrat's armed guards. Naturally, San Antonio's crew stumbles from one dangerous situation to the next, and more than once it looks like all is lost. Even San Antonio admits at one point: "it's a bit much all the same, enough to take the Mickey out of Spillane".
       Of course, the San Antonio novels aren't meant to be particularly realistic or plausible. Bérurier is an over-the-top clownish figure, and the fate of the characters is meant to hang in the balance as much as possible. Not everything goes well -- San Antonio has to resort to a mercy killing, and one of their group does lose his crown jewels -- but of course in the end everything works out as well as circumstances allow.
       But beyond the rather silly plot -- especially the implausible final escape, the crew arranging to get picked up by a plane -- this, like all the San Antonios, is at least as much about the telling, with all the firework-wordplay. Most of this not readily translatable, but Cyril Buhler tries his best, and there's such a splatter of hit and miss that enough that somehow works sticks.
       Yes, occasionally things go very, very wide of the mark -- "This expedition is senseless, it's like having one's appendix out in a telephone booth !" -- but on the whole readers can, like the narrator, be: "quite satisfied with my San Antonian sub-literature thank you very much". Helpfully -- and as is his wont in his self-aware novels -- he acknowledges the weaknesses (which are also the strengths) of his writing (in Buhler's approximation):
     Let's say my style's relaxed, to use a publicity cliché; it's true I write trash, I write like a comic stripster; so what ? Come to think of it you can' really say I write. I just strew itching powder over the daily mirror of life's flowing stream.
     I am the sodium bicarbonate of literature. I don't make people think, I make them belch and so I relieve them from their cares.
       The linguistic contortions run from start to end, but San Antonio doesn't lose himself, or the story, in them -- and the overlap, between writing, action, and winks to the reader, works well too:
Let's face it. This pun is weak. But do you want strong puns all the time, do you think I can produce strong puns all the time, so you'll laugh your heads off ? Is that my only thought in life, don't you think I've also got my crook-catching activities to take care of as well ? Or don't you ?
       San Antonio is on firmer ground when his adventures take place closer to home, with the exoticized comic excess in Knights of Arabia even more hit and miss than usual, but this novel too has all the usual elements, in spades, making for a decent little read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 14 April 2019

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Knights of Arabia: Reviews: Frédéric Dard: Other books by Frédéric Dard under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Frédéric Dard (1921-2000) is best known for his 'San-Antonio' novels.

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© 2019 the complete review

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