If you believe his own accounts of himself, Emilio Salgari was a great adventurer, who sailed the Seven Seas, traveled all over the North American continent, explored the Sudan, and romanced an Indian princess. In truth, Salgari was a fabulist, who flunked out of a nautical technical institution and never traveled any further from home than a three-month trip from Verona to Brindisi on a merchant marine vessel.
A fabulist is no bad thing to be, though, when you write adventure tales and science fiction novels, and he wrote more than 85 novels and is credited with 200 plus stories and novels. He is considered the father of Italian adventure fiction and the grandfather of spaghetti westerns. His novels were the childhood reading of many a well-known writer, including Isabel Allende, Umberto Eco, Carlos Fuentes, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Today, he is still one of Italy’s 40 most translated authors.
His most well-known characters are Sandokan, The Tiger of Malaysia, who attacks the fleets of the colonizing British and Dutch fleets, and The Black Corsair, who battles injustice in the Caribbean. He became so popular that his publisher hired other writers to turn out adventure stories in his name (hence, the vagueness in the number of things he wrote himself).
Salgari was born in Verona in a family of merchants. Although he yearned to sail the seas and studied seamanship, his academic performance was too poor to graduate. Instead, he took a job as a reporter at La Nuova Arena, where he began publishing some of his work as serials. He struggled financially all of his life despite his successes, and after his father died and his wife was committed to a mental hospital, he committed suicide.
Most popular works: The Tigers of Malaysia (or Sandokan) series, The Black Corsair series, The Pirates of Bermuda series
Other works: Adventures set in India, Russia, Africa, the Middle East, the Old West, the Polar regions; Le meraviglie del Duemila, about time travel; and an autobiographical work, La Bohème italiana