Thursday, November 8, 2012
The Black Count by Tom Reiss
Part of Synopsis From Dust Jacket:
His swashbuckling exploits appear in The Three Musketeers, and his triumphs and trials inspired The Count of Monte Cristo - both books written by his son. Yet it is for one reason in particular that General Alex Dumas deserves to stand n history's spotlight: alone among his race, he rose to command vast armies - in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East - and in his triumph and ultimate betrayal we see how dangerous one individual can be to an entire way of life.
Born to a black slave mother and a fugitive white French nobleman in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), Alex Dumas was sold into bondage but made his way to Paris, where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. When the Revolution broke out, he joined the army at the lowest rank - yet quickly rose, through a series of legendary feats, to command more than 50,000 men.
No matter how high he soared, Dumas continued to live by his blade and his boldness in the face of overwhelming odds. Yet, because of his unwavering principles, he ultimately became a threat to Napoleon himself.
Dumas was on his way home from conquering Egypt when his ship nearly sank, and he was captured by a mysterious enemy, thrown into a dungeon, and subjected to slow poisoning. But the fate that awaited him when he escaped the dungeon would shock him even more.
I've been trying to figure out the first time I read The Count of Monte Cristo, the first time I fell in love with a story that has captivated my imagination ever since. As a young adult, I read it as an adventure. How could anyone resist the story of a man who is betrayed by those he thought he could trust, imprisoned for years, only to escape and exact revenge on those who harmed him. It's a brilliantly told tale, and now that I know the inspiration for the story, I'm in love with it all that much more.
Before this book, I never gave much thought to who Alexandre Dumas was, I knew nothing about his background, let alone that his father was once a a revered military man, a general who led troops into battle, and pulled off what some thought was the impossible. The fact that he was the bastard son of a French aristocrat and a freed slave, makes the real story of the father, that much more compelling.
When I read a biography, especially of someone I'm not that familiar with, I want it to entertain and inform. I want to know who the person was to the core, what made them who they are, what drove them to be the person someone would want to write a book about hundreds of years later. But what's more, I want a book that makes me want to read more after the last page is turned. I want to be inspired to continue my journey. I want to learn more about the topic of the biography, or even the events they found themselves surrounded by. Tom Resiss did all of that for me with The Black Count.
Not only do I want to know more about General Dumas, but I feel compelled to actually read more about the French Revolution and it's aftermath. As an American high schooler, we never really learned all that much about what happened. I think most Americans use A Tale of Two Cities as their main references point. From what I did know about it, I was appalled by the excesses and horrified by the sheer violence. This book didn't change that for me, actually it gave me even more reason for feeling the way I do. What The Black Count did, was make me want to know more about the workings of the Revolution, the issues behind it, and the people involved.
It also made me want to know more about a society that was capable of looking past the general's race, to raise him up to such heights. I want to know more about a France that I never knew about, a country that despite it's "familiarity" stills remains an enigma for most Americans. I want to know how a country could wrestle with race, create a handicapped system of equality, and then turn it's back on the gains it had made.
Now I'm not saying my next few years are going to be taken up with a serious study of French history and culture, but I will keep my eyes open for opportunities that will allow me to sate my curiosity. It will, on occasion, check to see if there are any new books about General Dumas or the French Revolution. I will google to see if France has erected a statue or honored the General for his service anytime soon. This will be a book I lend out, though I'm normally hesitant about doing so. This will be a book that stays on my shelves for years to come.