Friday, May 31, 2013

The Black Count

Hands down, bar none, the book I’d have given my right arm, ‘cause I’m left handed, to have written is The Black Count by Tom Reiss.  Deservedly, he’s won the Pulitzer this year in the biography category for penning this amazing and true tale of Alex Dumas.  He was the father of the man who gave us grand adventure novels such as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.  As Michael Schaub on NPR opined, "You might forget, while reading, that The Black Count is a work of nonfiction; author Tom Reiss writes with such narrative urgency and vivid description, you'd think you were reading a novel..."

I can’t come up with enough superlatives about the life of the son of a black slave and white no account viscount.  He is acknowledged by his father and brought to Paris in the immediate years and political and social foment leading to the French Revolution.  Alex Dumas by dint of personality and skill rose from private to general, leading successful campaigns in the Alps and Italy, and eventually running afoul of Napoleon.  The book also looks at race and race relations in that time period in France, who we're reminded went into debt to help us defeat the British, their colonial enemy, in our revolution in the 18th century. 

As various reviewers have noted, his story reads, in part, like that of Edmond Dantès, the aforementioned count or The Man in the Iron Mask, only it’s true.  For the father’s exploits would eventually be told to his young son.

Serendipitously, I’m pleased too that in the wake of this wonderful book, though planned without having read, at the time last fall, The Black Count, Black Pulp has recently debuted from Pro Se Press.  The anthology, which I co-edited and contributed to, offers original stories in the pulp vein of adventure and derring-do by a range of writers including Mel Odom and Kimberly Richardson.  I’m not equating the two books, but it does remind us that history, especially a hidden history, can endure so as to be revealed for future generations.  And that exploits like that of Alex Dumas can entertain and educate writers and readers.  For certainly it was reading the Muskateers and his son Alexandre Dumas’ other works when I was young that, along with other such literature, fired my imagination to be a storyteller.

Viva La Black Count!

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