Friday, May 31, 2013

The for-reals Count of Monte Cristo

Book: The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Tom Reiss
Published: 2012 (Crown Publishers)
Pages: 330

My education in classical European literature being sorely lacking, I’ve never read The Count of Monte Cristo or anything else by Alexandre Dumas, but I now know that it was so much less fiction than it was having a really cool dad.

Dumas’s father was a man of color during the French Revolution, which was, weirdly enough, a great place for a man of his ancestry to thrive. Seriously, you guys, the French beat us to racial harmony by like two hundred years, and it totally would’ve stuck except for later when Napoleon came to power, he not-so-slowly eroded racial relations in the French colonies with economies that traditionally thrived under slave labor, and then it was sort of downhill for black people from there.

But before that, the senior Dumas came from slavery to Paris when they were still at the everybody’s-cool stage and trained at a famous fencing academy and quickly rose through the Revolutionary army to have all sorts of swashbuckling adventures that turned into, admittedly, more French military history than I really wanted to know about a real-life basis for a literary figure, but hey. He was damn good at it.

After he fought with Napoleon in Egypt, Dumas got captured and thrown in jail and then when he got out he found out that Napoleon didn’t exactly appreciate him anymore and thanks to slow poisoning during his capture, Dumas died sort of slowly and truly paranoid about all his new enemies.

Not before leaving a big impact on his son, though. Lil’ Dumas wrote his father’s memoirs, then romanced his life even further into popular novels. I liked hearing how this author collected all the information for this book, too. It took him like ten years, and he reflects on how Dumas’s handwriting looks (so elegant it’s hard to read), and he sites primary sources in anecdotes about finding them tucked away in tiny museums that no one visits but are still ardently supported by fans. Those journalistic-process interludes were nice breaks from the military history.

This is the start of my next reading sort of project, which is to say reading all the 2012 Pulitzer Prize nominees (fiction and non-fiction). My Library has a nifty blog post that lists them all, complete with links to find them in our catalogue and float them down to the holds shelf whenever I want. If this was my own book, would I keep it? Yes. Would I re-read it? Maybe, slanting towards probably not, but it’s still a good solid read and I liked having it around the past few weeks.  

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