By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 9, 2014 at 1:53PM
Editor's note: As 2014 begins, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the last year+, as the site has grown. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts, they will probably be new items. Here's the 19th of many, originally published in Match 2013. Happy New Year to you all!
My last recommendation was the pioneering black female cartoonist Jackie Ormes (read that post HERE).
This time around, it's Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, aka Alexandre Dumas, aka "Black Devil" by some of the armies he fought against (let's just say he was good at his job), aka The Black Count, which is the title of a recently published book from acclaimed author Tom Reiss. It was actually published in September 2012, and the full title is The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo.
I bought a copy of the book soon after it was published, and I'm finally getting around to reading it (my to-read pile of books is high). I'm about 1/2 way through, and it's quite riveting. Well-written, and reads with all the thrills of a novel written by Dumas' son, likely the most popular Dumas, also named Alexandre Dumas, author of literary classics like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.
Dumas, the father of the author, is the figure at the center of Reiss' riveting The Black Count, and which is encouraged reading.
In short, his life is/was the stuff of legends, and became fodder for his son's novels. The Count Of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers for example, were, in part, based on Dumas, the father's real-life story; his ending just wasn't as happy as it was for the fictional count in the 2002 film that most are probably familiar with, starring Jim Caviezel and Guy Pearce (there've been several film adaptations of the novel, however).
Dumas, the father, The Black Count, was born in Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) in 1762, the son of a black slave woman and a rebel French aristocrat. He was briefly sold into slavery but eventually made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, through pure ability, skill and determination, he rose up through the ranks rather quickly, and would eventually command armies at the height of the French Revolution, in audacious campaigns across Europe and the Middle East.
He wasn't only a great soldier, but also became the
highest-ranking black leader in a *modern* white society, at that time. By 32 years old, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the French
army, which is the equivalent of a four-star general here in the USA.
The last years of his life were unfortunately spent in captivity, before he would be released, all his accomplishments virtually forgotten, eventually dying of an incurable illness at just 43, in poverty, leaving a wife and 3 children - one of them being Alexandre Dumas, the son, who would go on to become the prolific and notable author.
The Black Count was actually born Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie (his aristocrat father's name), but he would eventually take his slave mother’s surname when he enlisted, becoming simply Alexandre (or Alex) Dumas.
I'm sure a lot of you are familiar with Dumas, the father (The Black Count), but if you're not, it won't be a surprise because his story was ruthlessly suppressed by the country he practically gave his life to (France), and remained buried for some 200 or so years.
Initially praised and loved by Napoleon for his daring, heroic battlefield feats, the same Napoleon would eventually come to despise Dumas for, really, the same reasons he liked him in the first place - his independence and revolutionary ideals which dictated his approach to war, and earned him victories, as well as the respect of both his friends and enemies.
While Dumas languished for two years in an enemy dungeon, Napoleon made himself dictator and destroyed the "post-racial" society that was France at the time, imposing cruel race laws, and re-instituting slavery in the colonies. Napoleon then went to extraordinary lengths to completely bury the memory of Alex Dumas, ensuring that he was all-but forgotten, until recent memory.
The book itself is both a riveting true action/adventure story of this one man's life, as well as a peek into what was essentially the modern world's first multi-racial society. The author provides just enough crucial back-story, before diving into Dumas, the father's own narrative. In fact, he doesn't get to Dumas' story until about 60 pages in - we first learn about his father, his mother, what the world, and specifically France and Haiti (the 2 key locations in which the novel unfolds) were like in that century (the 1700s primarily), and how the landscape changed over time.
Sadly, I don't believe a film (whether scripted narrative or documentary) has ever been made on The Black Count. At least, I couldn't find any information that would suggest that; even a YouTube short doc, or lecture, or something. Nothing.
But if you know otherwise, let me know in the comment section.
And I certainly won't hold my breath for a Hollywood studio to option the rights to the novel and produce a film based on it, even though they continue to milk stories from the novels written by his son - stories that are, in some cases, inspired by the father's life and exploits.
But in reading this book, it's incredibly rich, despite such a short life - one that is begging to be told on film; or even just a slice or piece of it.
If you'd like to read the book, click HERE to pick up a copy.
Below you'll find an NPR interview with author Tom Reiss: