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0 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 50 out of 5 0.00 (0 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Vladimir Alexandrov Narrator: Peter Marinker Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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The Black Russian is the incredible story of Frederick Bruce Thomas, born in 1872 to former slaves who became prosperous farmers in Mississippi. A rich white planter’s attempt to steal their land forced them to flee to Memphis, where Frederick’s father was brutally murdered. After leaving the South and working as a waiter and valet in Chicago and Brooklyn, Frederick sought greater freedom in London, then crisscrossed Europe, and—in a highly unusual choice for a black American at the time—went to Russia in 1899. Because he found no color line there, Frederick made Moscow his home. He renamed himself Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas, married twice, acquired a mistress, and took Russian citizenship. Through his hard work, charm, and guile he became one of the city’s richest and most famous owners of variety theaters and restaurants. But the Bolshevik Revolution ruined him, and he barely escaped with his life and family to Constantinople in 1919. Starting from scratch, he made a second fortune by opening celebrated nightclubs that introduced jazz to Turkey. However, the long arm of American racism, the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic, and Frederick’s own extravagance landed him in debtors’ prison. He died in Constantinople in 1928.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “That truth is ever stranger than fiction is underscored by the story of Frederick Bruce Thomas. The highs and lows of Thomas’ unlikely life journey are skillfully unfurled by Vladimir Alexandrov.”

    Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, New York Times bestselling author of A Slave in the White House

  • “A spirited tale of boundary-crossing and history-bucking, every bit as colorful as it seems improbable.”

    Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize–winning author

  • “A fascinating tale of culture clash and historical change, researched with energy and written with verve.”

    Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of the international bestseller Gulag: A History

  • “As a reader, I found myself fascinated by this well-written story. As a writer, I found myself envious of Vladimir Alexandrov for having discovered such a remarkable man whose life, both triumphant and tragic, spans continents, wars, and a revolution—and whom no one seems to have noticed before. An extraordinary and gripping book.”

    Adam Hochschild, National Book Award nominee

  • “This well-written book is about one of the most fascinating black men of modern times. Like Jack Johnson, Frederick Thomas was a brilliant, proud, and ambitious black man who experienced the heights of success and the depths of failure—in a foreign land. Don’t miss this masterful work!”

    Cornel West

  • “In The Black Russian, Vladimir Alexandrov tells the keenly researched and vividly written story of one of the more extraordinary characters in African American history. Alexandrov deftly brings to life the succession of complex milieus in the United States, France, Russia, and Turkey in which Frederick Bruce Thomas achieved both his improbable successes and his haunting defeats. This is a tale to remember.”

    Arnold Rampersad, Pulitzer Prize nominee

  • “A detailed, readable history of Gilded Age America and the politics and cultural life of early twentieth-century Russia—one whose common thread is a man with expansive dreams who was lucky enough to be able to leave his homeland to realize them.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune

  • “Although Alexandrov constructed this vessel with sturdy timbers of historical research, it sails lightly on a swift narrative current that transports us from Reconstruction Mississippi to Memphis, New York City, London, Paris, Moscow, and, finally, Constantinople…Alexandrov excels at re-creating the various worlds Thomas inhabited—from his restricted existence during Reconstruction to his glittering fast-lane life on the Continent…What [Thomas’] life illustrates, as Alexandrov skillfully and gracefully shows, is that when people are unshackled from slaveries—of whatever sort—freedom’s buoyancy can lift them to surprising heights, can offer miraculous views.”

    Cleveland Plain Dealer

  • “[A] gracefully written feat of historical sleuthing…Through prodigious archival research, historical scholarship, and painstaking reconstruction of secondhand accounts, [Alexandrov] has drawn a moving and vivid portrait of a remarkable American life.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • The Black Russian vaults breathlessly from set-piece to set-piece as it traces the journey of its hero…Grand tableaux of nineteenth-century America and late-tsarist Russia are rendered in crisp, compelling prose…Most evocative of all is an account of 1920s Constantinople, which Alexandrov describes with dizzying relish…The narrative teems with wonderfully unsalubrious characters…panache and engaging detail. Like Thomas’ midnight cabarets, it provides a thoroughly enjoyable display.”

    Spectator (London)

  • “A remarkable story about a formidable man. A story Alexandrov has uncovered and masterfully told.”

    Winnipeg Free Press

  • “It is a testament to Thomas’ unlikely success in Moscow, but also to Alexandrov’s frisson-inducing account of myriad adventures along the way, that The Black Russian emerges as deeply satisfying despite its subject’s woebegone end…By its very nature, the victory of an underdog has a restorative effect on flagging enthusiasm in life’s opportunities. And what triumph against the odds could prove more rousing than that of Frederick Bruce Thomas…[who] becomes the king of nightlife?”

    Brooklyn Rail

  • “With so much focus on the black experience in America in the nineteenth century, we might never consider the black experience in Europe at the same time. Vladimir Alexandrov’s The Black Russian rectifies this oversight, and does so with panache. His tale is the biography of an individual who is wholly remarkable, regardless of race, and whose vitality, guile, and charm led him from Mississippi to Moscow, with plenty of adventures along the way…Alexandrov transports the reader to an exotic era. Some of the most memorable parts of Thomas’ life story lie in the incidental grace notes that add color to the lands through which he traveled.”

    Daily Beast

  • “[A] magnetically appealing, unforgettable biography…In his assiduously researched, prodigiously descriptive, fluently analytical, and altogether astonishing work of resurrection, Alexandrov provides uniquely focused accounts of racial struggles in America and decadence and bloodshed in Europe and Russia while insightfully and dynamically portraying a singular man.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Intriguing…Set against the dramatic backdrop of the upheavals in Russia and Turkey in the early twentieth century, this biography will interest those who enjoy a good rags-to-riches story (albeit an ultimately sad one).”

    Library Journal

  • “A compelling narrative of [a] powerful and complex man.”

    Shelf Awareness

  • “In The Black Russian, Vladimir Alexandrov provides a powerful counternarrative to the conventional Great Migration story of southern blacks migrating north en masse in the decades after the Civil War. He tells instead the tale of Frederick Bruce Thomas, son of a slave, who left the United States to hopscotch through Europe…In assembling the facts of Thomas’ story, Alexandrov relates in vivid detail the political, financial, and emotional highs and lows of this man’s incredible life.”

    Carla L. Peterson, author of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

  • “As the granddaughter of a family that escaped from Russia because of the Bolshevik Revolution, I read The Black Russian in one sitting. Vladimir Alexandrov has done more than tell the story of a forgotten man, he has woven a fascinating tapestry of Moscow life before the October Revolution. The reader is offered a unique front-row seat to Moscow’s pre-revolutionary beau monde and a hair-raising escape days before the Bolshevik takeover. Frederick Thomas’ unlikely ascent from Mississippi farm boy to Moscow impresario is a surprising tale with those most American of themes: tenacity and self-invention.”

    Olga Andreyev Carlisle, author of Solzhenitsyn and the Secret Circle

  • “Hang on for the ride of a lifetime. With the verve of a novelist, historian Alexandrov takes one on an adventure through pre-war Mississippi, London, Paris, Tsarist Russia, and the Bolshevik Revolution, ending up in decadent Constantinople.”

    John Bailey, author of The Lost German Slave Girl: The Extraordinary True Story of Sally Miller and Her Fight for Freedom in Old New Orleans

  • “A wild life of intrigue, deception, and beating the odds…[Frederick] Thomas’ story is certainly interesting, particularly since he was able to thrive in Europe in a way most African American men of his generation couldn’t dream of…[The Black Russian is] a good choice for those who enjoy reading about life’s underdogs.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013
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