LITERATURE

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

. September 2012. 432p. 978-0-30738-246-7. 27.
COPY ISBN
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.

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