Reviews for Black Count : Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
Booklist Reviews 2012 September #1
The inspiration for some of the great adventure tales of Alexandre Dumas has long been a subject of curiosity and debate. According to Reiss, the inspiration for the great novel of intrigue, betrayal, and revenge, The Count of Monte Cristo, was Dumas' own father, General Alexandre Alex Dumas. In this often thrilling and often sad chronicle, Reiss makes clear that Alex lived a life as full of adventure, triumph, and tragic loss as any of his son's literary creations. He was born in Haiti, the child of an enslaved mother and an erratic French aristocrat who briefly sold his son into slavery. Despite the obvious and immense political and racial obstacles in his path, Alex found his way to Paris, became a skilled swordsman, and rose rapidly in the reorganized army of the French Republic, where he served admirably during Napoléon's invasions of Egypt. Unfortunately, like his literary counterpart, Edmond DantĂ¨s, Alex incurred the hostility of powerful people, leading to his fall from grace and eventual impoverishment. This is an absorbing biography that should redeem its subject from undeserved obscurity. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2012 October
The real-life Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo is a classic tale of betrayal and revenge, penned by the renowned 19th-century author Alexandre Dumas. But it turns out the novel is not merely fiction; key plot developments were based on the true-life experiences of the authorâ€™s father. This is the premise of The Black Count, a new book by Tom Reiss that traces the incredible rise and precipitous fall of Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, the father of author Alexandre Dumas.
In many ways, the life of the elder Dumas mirrors that of Edmond Dantes, the hero of The Count of Monte Cristo. In the novel, Dantes is falsely accused of being a supporter of Napoleon, who has been exiled from France. Dantes is imprisoned for 14 years before escaping and enacting revenge on his accusers.
While some occurrences in Thomas-Alexandre Dumasâ€™ life were not as dramatic as those of the fictional Dantes, other aspects were even more remarkable. Dumas was born in present-day Haiti to a French nobleman and a black slave. Brought to France by his father, the mixed-race Dumas became a general under Napoleon Bonaparte.
But General Dumasâ€™ fortunes abruptly changed. He was captured in Italy, thrown into a dungeon and left to rot. Though he was finally released, he died impoverished and embittered. Perhaps his revenge was achieved with his sonâ€™s writing of The Count of Monte Cristo, which takes a critical look at Franceâ€™s tumultuous political climate.
The Black Count is a thoroughly researched, lively piece of nonfiction that will be savored by fans of Alexandre Dumas. But The Black Count needs no partner: It is fascinating enough to stand on its own. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 June #2
A compelling new work by literary detective Reiss (The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, 2005) tracks the wildly improbable career of Alexandre Dumas' mixed-race father. Using records from Gen. Dumas' final residence and the military archives at the Chateau de Vincennes, the author provides a vivid sense of who Dumas was and how he attained such heights and fell so low after the French Revolution, being nearly forgotten by the time of his death in 1806. The simple answer seems to be racism. Born to an aristocratic French father and a slave mother in Saint-Domingue, Dumas became a general in the French Revolution and served under Napoleon, by turns lauded as a hero and vilified as a black insurgent. Taken prisoner on the way back from Egypt, his health was ruined after two years' imprisonment in Italy. His novelist son paid homage to his father's legendary stature, manliness, athletic prowess and bravery in his best-known protagonists--e.g., Edmond Dantčs in The Count of Monte Cristo and the swashbuckling D'Artagnon in The Three Musketeers. The general's own father pawned the boy and took him to Paris to make a gentleman of him. Enlisting as a private in the Queen's Dragoons at age 24, he changed his name to Dumas, his slave mother's maiden name. Thanks to the republican spirit of the period and to his own dazzling exploits, he was handily promoted, yet as swiftly demoted by Napoleon, who later passed harsh racial laws. He was never provided the military pension allowed him, and his widow and children sank into hardship; Dumas the novelist was excoriated 40 years later for his black ancestry. Reiss eloquently argues the general's case. A rarefied, intimate literary study delineating a roiling revolutionary era. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 April #2
Author of the best-selling The Orientalist, which unfolded the complicated life story of a Caucasus-born Jew who declared himself a Muslim prince, Reiss seems like the right guy to chronicle slave-turned-general Alexandre Dumas. He'd be unknown today had the son who shares his name not used his adventures as the basis for numerous enduring novels. [Page 62]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #2
Confronted with the surname Dumas, most readers are likely to think of Alexandre Dumas, author of such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But in The Black Count, Reiss (The Orientalist) explores the life of the writer's father, a man of mixed racial and cultural heritage, born in Saint-Domingue to a slave mother (her last name was Dumas) and a French aristocrat. His father brought him to France, where, because of his tremendous courage and physical gifts, he rose through the ranks of the French military under Napoleon to become a general. He was taken prisoner of war when his ship returning to France from Cairo was captured near Sicily, and he died five years later, when his son was not yet four. Reiss seeks to demonstrate the great effect of the elder Dumas on his son's fiction, inspiring many of the characters and situations in those works. VERDICT While Reiss occasionally strays from the central narrative with an abundance of tangential detail regarding the French Revolution, this accessible read is recommended for fans of popular narrative nonfiction as well as for both casual and serious students of French history, and of the younger Dumas's work.--Ben Neal, Sullivan Cty. P.L., Bristol, TN. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 June #4
Alex Dumas, an extraordinary man whose sensational life had been largely lost to history solely because of his race, takes the spotlight in this dynamic tale. Thanks to Reiss's excellent research, combined with the passionate memorial his son, Alexandre Dumas, consistently built in his own novels and memoir, Dumas's life has been brought back to light. Father to the well-known novelist and clear inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo, as well as the adventurous spirit of The Three Musketeers and other stories, Dumas (1762-1806) rose through the ranks of the French army from a lowly private in the dragoons to become a respected general who marched into Egypt at Napoleon's side. (The rivalry and juxtaposition between these two leaders proves fascinating.) Born in what is now Haiti to a French nobleman father and a slave mother, the biracial Dumas chanced to come of age during the French Revolution, a brief period of equality in the French empire; he was thus granted numerous opportunities that the son of a slave 20 years before him (or even 20 years later) would not have enjoyed. Reiss capitalizes on his subject's charged personality as well as the revolutionary times in which he lived to create an exciting narrative. Agent: Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC