Book Review: The Black Count

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

I have never read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, but I have a copy.  I have been a bit intimidated because it is so long, but maybe I need to!  The book was published in 1844; the adventure story of a man who is falsely imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, and learns about a huge treasure.  He is committed to gaining his freedom and finding the treasure! 

While The Count of Monte Cristo is fiction, I never knew that the story is loosely based on the life of Dumas’ father, also named Alexandre Dumas.  The father was born on Saint-Domingue, a French sugar colony on the island of Hispaniola, which is now Haiti.  He was born a slave, the son of a French nobleman and an enslaved woman.  Remarkably, the French laws at the time of the French Revolution were very favorable to free blacks and allowed them to be educated, to be accepted into society and even possess titles in French society, both in France and in the colonies.

The Black Count is about the father of the author Alexandre Dumas, and his life.  It details what is known about his birth and parentage, so his father bringing him as a teenager and a slave to France to be educated in one of the best boarding schools.  Later he obtains his freedom and makes his mark in the French military.  This is the time period of the French Revolution, and while this was one of the best times to be a person of color in France, he also had to carefully navigate the dangerous political climate.  The elder Dumas was a genius at commanding troops, moved up quickly through the ranks of the military, and established himself as one of France’s most talented generals. 

As Napoleon gained power, Dumas lost favor and was ultimately imprisoned by one of the independent nation states in Italy, who considered France an enemy for having conquered them previously.  This imprisonment was the impetus for the novel, The Count of Monte Cristo.  The Black Count covers his imprisonment and failing health, as well as his life after he obtains his freedom.  Unfortunately, under Napoleon’s rule, life for people of color was much more difficult, and the father Dumas lost much of the status and fortune he had attained.  He died young of cancer, leaving his wife and children in poverty.

Overall, this book was not what I was expecting – it was much more.  It dove deeply into the details of the French sugar colonies, the French Revolution, Napoleon’s campaigns, and the treatment of slaves and free people of color by the French government of the period.  I learned a lot!  I would recommend this book both for people who are interested in Alexandre Dumas and the Count of Monte Cristo, and another perspective on the French Revolution and the early Napoleonic period.  Very well written and researched. 

4 stars. 


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