The Black Russian: Book summary and reviews of The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov

The Black Russian

By Vladimir Alexandrov

The Black Russian
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2013,
    304 pages.

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Book Summary

The Black Russian is the incredible story of Frederick Bruce Thomas, born in 1872 to former slaves who became prosperous farmers in Mississippi. A rich white planter's attempt to steal their land forced them to flee to Memphis, where Frederick's father was brutally murdered.

After leaving the South and working as a waiter and valet in Chicago and Brooklyn, Frederick sought greater freedom in London, then crisscrossed Europe, and, in a highly unusual choice for a black American at the time, went to Russia in 1899. Because he found no color line there, Frederick made Moscow his home. He renamed himself Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas, married twice, acquired a mistress, and took Russian citizenship.

Through his hard work, charm, and guile he became one of the city's richest and most famous owners of variety theaters and restaurants. The Bolshevik Revolution ruined him, and he barely escaped with his life and family to Constantinople in 1919. Starting from scratch, he made a second fortune by opening celebrated nightclubs that introduced jazz to Turkey. However, the long arm of American racism, the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic, and Frederick's own extravagance landed him in debtor's prison. He died in Constantinople in 1928.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Magnetizing and unforgettable...In his assiduously researched, prodigiously descriptive, fluently analytical, and altogether astonishing work of resurrection, Alexandrov provides uniquely focused accounts of racial struggles in America and decadence and bloodshed in Europe and Russia while insightfully and dynamically portraying a singular man." - Booklist

"Though Thomas's is a fascinating and unique story, Alexandrov's tedious and lackluster telling saps the tale of life. " - Publishers Weekly

"Though sometimes dry, a good choice for those who enjoy reading about life's underdogs." - Kirkus Reviews

"This well-written book is about one of the most fascinating black men of modern times. Like Jack Johnson, Frederick Thomas was a brilliant, proud and ambitious black man who experienced the heights of success and the depths of failure—in a foreign land. Don't miss this masterful work!" - Cornel West, author of Race Matters

"In assembling the facts of Thomas's story, Alexandrov relates in vivid detail the political, financial, and emotional highs and lows of this man's incredible life." - Carla L. Peterson, author of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

"As a reader, I found myself fascinated by this well-written story. As a writer, I found myself envious of Vladimir Alexandrov for having discovered such a remarkable man whose life, both triumphant and tragic, spans continents, wars and a revolution—and whom no one seems to have noticed before. An extraordinary and gripping book." - Adam Hochschild, author of To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918

"A spirited tale of bucking the tides of history, every bit as colorful as it seems improbable." - Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: A Life, a New York Times Book Review Top 10 Books of the Year

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Vladimir Alexandrov received a Ph. D. in comparative literature from Princeton. He taught Russian literature and culture at Harvard before moving to Yale, where he is B.E. Bensinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures. He is the author of books on Bely, Nabokov, and Tolstoy, and has published numerous articles on various other Russian writers and topics.

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