The Black Count by Tom Reiss
Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo – a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.
Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave — who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.
Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East – until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.
The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.
While I still need to revisit it for this blog, I love The Count of Monte Cristo. (My standard pitch: “It has everything! Revenge! Sword-fighting! Revenge! Political intrigue! Revenge! Lesbians! Revenge!”) So Dumas is near and dear to my heart, which Cass well knows, hence her recommending this to me. I learned of Dumas’ black heritage during another round of whitewashed casting (Gerard Depardieu as the author), but I had no idea his father was just so cool. I want to know more!
Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness enjoyed it, although she notes that Reiss sometimes gets sidetracked by politics or the French Revolution. Jen at Devourer of Books loved it, especially how Reiss handles the French Revolution and its causes. Izzy at Izzy Reads liked it, especially how Reiss made Dumas feel so immediate and human. Drew Toal, writing for NPR Books, also found Dumas’ story interesting and relevant, although he finds Reiss’ approach to Dumas to be reminiscent of a gushing fan letter.
The Black Count was published on September 18, 2012.