Sandokan – an Italian Children’s Classic

We saw Pirates of the Caribbean in Italian, though I felt it lost something in translation. But it was fun, pretty much what you’d expect from a movie developed from an amusement park ride. And it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about Sandokan.

Sandokan, a character created in 1883 by an imaginative but completely untravelled Italian named Emilio Salgari, is a Malaysian prince, deposed by the British and Dutch colonialists who have taken over his country. Unable to reclaim his throne, “the Tiger of Malaysia” takes to piracy, harassing the colonialists, along with his fearless band of seamen and his Portugese sidekick, Yanez.

I find very amusing the reversal on typical colonial literature of the period: here the baddies are the white men, such as the real historical character, James Brooke, the “White Rajah of Borneo.”

Salgari wrote over 80 novels, stories of adventure set in exotic lands from Malaysia to India to the Caribbean. His work enjoyed periods of great popularity in many languages and countries, but has only very recently begun to be translated into English. For those who read Italian, some works are available for download.

Sandokan was made into several TV miniseries in Italy in the 1970s, starring Kabir Bedi, a half-Indian half-Italian actor. Rather too tall for a Malaysian, but awfully handsome, so who’s complaining? Besides, the Englishman James Brooke was played by an Italian (who also once or twice played James’ Bond’s nemesis Blomfeld), and Yanez the Portugese by a Frenchman, and since the series was apparently shot in India, all the “Malaysians” must be Indian. Oh, well. Inaccuracies notwithstanding,the series is fun, and is available on DVD.

Pictures etc. from the TV series

learn the song!

Salgari was never high literature, and even in the original Italian the writing is a bit clumsy (how many times in one paragraph can you use the word cupo – dark?). You read these for the grand adventure tales they are, so, if that’s what floats your boat, I do recommend them – and now two of them are available in English:

Nov 24, 2007

The kind people at ROH Press wrote to let me know:

“ROH Press has just released a new modern translation of The Tigers of Mompracem. You can read sample chapters on our website.

Next year marks Sandokan’s 125th anniversary so we’ve also issued The Pirates of Malaysia  and The Two Tigers.”

One thought on “Sandokan – an Italian Children’s Classic

  1. Qt

    Oh, how much i loved Sandokan in my teen years (the books even more than the tv show),
    Way before exotic cuisines become trendy (or even known) here in Italy i remember spending almost an entire summer afternoon laughing like crazy at the adventures of Yanez in a restaurant where he was served insects ;-).
    Ciao.

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