Harold Robbins' 1974 novel, The Pirate, became a bestseller because of two things. First, Robbins uses current political events to serve as a focus in the novel. Secondly, The Pirate follows an established formula for a Robbins bestseller.
The November 11, 1974 issue of Time Magazine features Yasser Arafat is on the cover, as well as Paul Gray's review of The Pirate. Gray points out how Robbins uses current events in the novel when he states Robbins, "?shrewdly blends in topical interest to create a sort of nonfiction fiction" (Gray 112). The Pirate, then, is an example of how Robbins incorporates current events into the creation of his book. In a 1974 review of The Pirate featured in the Times Literary Supplement, William Feaver states that, "The Pirate is very much up to the minute. It surveys the Middle East crisis?" (Feaver 1183).
The Pirate deals with current events by focusing on the lives of Arab and Jewish main characters. The novel begins with two couples lost in a sand storm. One is a rich Arab couple taking shelter in tents with their entourage, and the other is a Jewish couple traveling by donkey. Both couples are expecting a child. The Jewish couple is traveling to the holy land with hopes that their child would be born there, but they lose their way and supplies in the storm. The Arab couple is returning from a pilgrimage to Mecca, where they asked Allah for a son, when the storm started. While waiting out the storm the Arab wife goes into labor and she is worried that she will have another girl. Meanwhile the Jewish husband wanders into the Arab camp with a his pregnant wife. His wife eventually dies, but because the Arab husband is a doctor, he is able to save the child. His own daughter, however, dies during birth. Because the Jew's wife is dead and he cannot care for the child, he tells the doctor to keep his son and raise it as his own. This is how a Jew grows up as the heir to a sonless Arab prince. The Arab doctor names the boy Baydr. By the time Baydr reaches adulthood, he acquires a lot of power and influence.
When he grows up , for example, Baydr decides to have a movie about the life of the Prophet Muhammad created. When the idea for this movie is introduced in the novel, Baydr mentions that Jews control Hollywood and they do not want a movie about the Prophet created. The director who would take such a risk would be committing career suicide. Therefore, Baydr choose someone who is quietly anti-Semitic and would be willing to create the movie without fear of a backlash from the Jews in Hollywood.
By the end of the novel, Baydr's rebellious daughter, from his first marriage, with the help of her terrorist friends, kidnaps Baydr's second wife and two sons. Baydr must enlist the aid of an Israeli General and his soldiers. This General happens to be his biological father. The terrorist group that Baydr's daughter is involved with want to reclaim the holy land and start a war with the Jews. This novel is laced with opinions from each side of the conflict. At one point in the novel, the character Yasfir tries to convince Baydr that their way is the best way to deal with the Jews by trying to bribe him. However, Baydr does not feel that bloodshed and money will solve anything. At one point in the novel, he thinks?
This is the weakness of the Arab world. Corruption and graft had become an integral part of their commerce. Out of ten million pounds, only six million pounds was going to be used for the benefit of the people. And that benefit was highly questionable. What people needed was food and education, not guns. And certainly they did not need to enrich their leaders at their own expense.
There are ideas in this novel that are similar to the one quoted above. It is a way for the author to express his views on the matter. The political message of this book is that Muslims and Jews do not have to fight in order to understand each other and to work with one another. They just need to find what they have in common and then proceed from there. The novel ends with the general dying and with his last breath he says, ?There is but one God?' (408) The point of this quote is to allow the reader to come to the conclusion that Jews and Muslims already have a common ground in their belief that there is only one God. Since the Jews and Muslims devote their lives to the same God, they should be able to live in harmony together through that belief.
A current political issue is something that will keep a reader interested. When a particular issue is in the news, that issue is often earmarked as a good choice for incorporating into a novel. The public will find it interesting. Eventually that novel may make it to the bestseller list. This explanation can be applied to Harold Robbins' The Pirate.
The Harold Robbins formula consists of characters that resemble real people, violence, and descriptions of explicit sex. These characters are typically extremely rich and they spend their time flying in private jets all over the world from party to party, exotic place to exotic place. The Pirate features the same types of characters that Robbins likes to place throughout his novels.
In his Time Magazine review of The Pirate, Paul Gray, states, that he believes the main character, Baydr, "?might just be modeled on Abdlatif Al Hamad, the oil sheikdom of Kuwait's money manager" (Gray 112). The belief that Robbins models characters on real people is shared by the author Kathy Acker. In her 1990 article, "Dead Doll Humanity", written as a response to accusations that she plagiarized The Pirate in her work The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec, Acker states that Robbins modeled the main character's wife, Jordana, after Jacqueline Onassis. Acker seems to be the only person that published this belief, but it shows that modeling characters after real people is something common to the Robbins formula.
Another theme that is common throughout The Pirate is violence, and this violence is usually coupled with sex. In chapter four, Baydr slaps his wife because she does not acknowledge the birthday present he places by her pillow. In chapter thirteen, there is a flashback involving Baydr having sex with his wife. This moment in their life takes place shortly after they were married. He degrades her through sex and in the end, he makes her realize that she is nothing more than his property.
This theme of explicit sex is a common throughout Robbins' novels. In the 1974 New York Times Book Review, Gene Lyons points out one particular scene "?involving a well-endowed black man, a lust-crazed white woman, a jar of cocaine and a handful of amyl nitrate capsules?" (Lyons 51). Kathy Acker uses this same scene from the book in her work The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec. Lyons continues to say that "[b]y now Robbins is more a product than a writer and is marketed as relentlessly as a vaginal deodorant spray" (51).
From the reviews, one may get the impression that people familiar with Robbins work would not be surprised by the explicit and vulgar nature of his writing. "Their heads were between one another's legs, their mouths and tongues viciously devouring each other when suddenly they rolled over one on top of the other and the twin half-moons of a pair of white buttocks was shining up at him?" (Robbins 28). This is an example of the type of explicit language that the reader will encounter in The Pirate. Further, down the same page the novel continues with a detailed description of how Baydr readies himself and one of the girls for anal intercourse. This scene introduces the reader to Robbins' writing style. The reader learns very quickly, what to expect, regarding the way certain subjects will be presented.
The scene in The Pirate that reviewer Gene Lyons quotes and Kathy Acker uses in her work seems to be a scene that many feel to be quite shocking. Yet there are many more shocking scenes in this book, and one is located in chapter ten. This particular scene involves Jordana and a stranger aboard Baydr's yacht during her birthday party. Jordana helps him masturbate by the railing of the yacht. This scene on the yacht takes place much earlier than the scene that Lyons and Acker mentions, but it is just as shocking because Jordana, the main character's wife, performs this task while on a yacht full of party guests and her husband. The description of explicit sex is a part of the Robbins formula. If you are a Robbins fan then you expect to find the theme of sex in the book.
A recognizable formula in a book is something that readers enjoy. If they know what to expect they will continue to seek it out. This idea can be seen in television shows. After the success of the first reality television show, every television network developed similar reality shows. The reason for this is that ratings show that audiences like this type of entertainment and they will watch things just like it. This is the same for novels. If one formula works, readers will seek out books that follow either the same exact formula or a similar formula. This is why the reviewer from Books and Bookmen closes the review for The Pirate with "[a] good value all-in package tour to Harold Robbins's land" (Books&Bookmen 79). The familiarity of the Robbins formula contributes to The Pirate being a bestseller. This novel became a bestseller because it attracted readers by making current political events a focal point in the novel, and by successfully applying a formula developed by an already multiple bestselling novelist, Harold Robbins.
Acker, Kathy. "Dead Doll Humility." Postmodern Culture. 1.1 (September 1990).
Bannon, Barbara A. "PW Forecasts". Rev. of The Pirate, by Harold Robbins. Publisher's Weekly 206.4 (22 July 1974): 64.
Emerson, Sally. "Books Noticed". Rev. of The Pirate, by Harold Robbins. Books and Bookmen 20.4 (Jan. 1974): 79.
Fare, Diane. "Kathy Acker." The Literary Encyclopedia. 10 Sept. 2006. The Literary Dictionary Company. 30 March 2006. http://www.litencyc.com
Feaver, William. "Bang up to date". Rev. of The Pirate, by Harold Robbins. Times Literary Supplement (25 October 1974): 1183.
Gray, Paul. Rev. of The Pirate, by Harold Robbins. Time: the weekly magazine 104 (11 November 1974): 112
Lyons, Gene. Rev. of The Pirate, by Harold Robbins. New York Times Book Review 79 (27 October 1974): 50-51.
Straub, Peter. "Hot & Cold". Rev. of The Pirate, by Harold Robbins. New Statesman 88(1 Nov. 1974):627.
Robbins, Harold. The Pirate. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1974.