Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Black Count by Tom Reiss

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: José Beltrán

What I Read: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Tom Reiss, winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for biography, narrates a biography of the father of famous novelist Alexandre Dumas. Alexandre Dumas the novelist based his novels on the swashbuckling adventures of his own father, French General Alexandre Dumas. Dumas the writer wrote in his memoir “You see, Father, I haven’t forgotten any of the memories that; you told me to keep…Your memory has lived in me like a sacred lamp, illuminating everything and everyone you ever touched…” Dumas the soldier was the hero at Mauld, Mont Cenis, Mantua, the Horatio Cocles of the Bridge of Brien, and Cairo. Dumas the soldier was born the Haitian black slave son of the beautiful black slave Marie Cessette and the ne'er-do-well  fugitive white French Norman noble Alexandre Antoine Davy Marquis de la Pailleterie(1714). Napoleon was the man behind Edmond Dantès’s suffering.

What I Thought: Reiss gives a front row seat to the events leading to the French Revolution and the revolution itself. The book goes to great detail explaining 1700 French society culture, especially slavery, the customs, and the players and the laws, especially Le Code Noir, the French codification of colonial slavery (1685) by the Ancien Régime. Mulattos were repressed as shown by the insolence related in the encounter and incident at Nicolet’s. D’Artagnan of the three musketeers represents the father of Alexandre Dumas as not fitting in. 

Dumas the soldier enlisted as a common soldier private, dragoon (light cavalry) and fully embodied the ideals of the French Revolution as an ardent republican, especially equality, bravery, leadership and above all his swordsmanship. Imprisoned, poisoned by the Inquisition, and later sidelined by Napoleon Bonaparte’s jealousy taking credit for the work of others such as Dumas’s victory at Mantua, Dumas was appointed to head the cavalry without mounts in the invasion of Egypt (1798) against the Mamelukes. Here Dantes witnessed slavery firsthand as Arab traders brought slaves from Ethiopia. Returning to Europe on the Belle Maltaise in 1799, Dumas almost drowned and, landing in Naples, was quarantined. Dantes finds himself the prisoner of the Holy Faith Army under Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, which massacred Jews, liberals, and republicans. The Cardinal joined with Turk Ottomans, British, and Russian forces to purge Naples of any French influence. This 2 year imprisonment in the fortress of Taranto became the basis for The Count of Monte Cristo.

As general in chief of the French Army in Italy, Dumas the soldier clashed with Napoleon, who thought himself Caesar, on the treatment of civilians. Napoleon finally achieved his dream: he was declared dictator in 1799 with the money and support of slavers, and then emperor in 1804. Napoleon reinstated slavery and forbade mixed marriage. Dumas the author was denied a secondary education, and admission to any military school or civilian college. His mother died at the age of 69, never having received a sou (penny) of the pension that Dumas the General was denied. She did live long enough to see Dumas the writer, her son achieve international fame and fortune. Her grandson became Dumas the playwright.

Readalikes: The Orientalist, Twelve Secrets in the Caucasus

Or look this book up on NoveList!