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Black Ajax [Paperback]

George MacDonald Fraser
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 2008

In the spirit of Flashman and in the inimitable George MacDonald Fraser style comes a rousing story of prize fighting in the 19th century. Reissued in a stunning new package, Black Ajax will attract a new generation of fans.

When Captain Buck Flashman sees the black boxer catch a fly in mid-flight he realizes that he is in the presence of speed such as the prize ring has never seen. Tom Molineaux may be crude and untutored, but if ‘Mad Buck’ knows anything (and like his notorious son, the archcad Harry Flashman, he has an unerring eye for the main chance), this ex-slave from America is a Champion in the making, on whose broad shoulders the ambitious Captain can climb to sporting and social fame. Under his patronage, the ‘Black Ajax’ is carried on a popular tide of sporting fever to his great dream: to fight the invincible, undefeated Champion of England, the great Tom Cribb.

The story of Molineaux and his eventual battles with Cribb is told through a series of superbly original and individual voices – colourful, powerful and funny. Together they create a magnificent picture of Regency England and a portrait of a flawed hero who surmounted the barriers of ignorance, poverty and race hatred to bring the prize ring a lustre it had never known before, and may never again.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; (Reissue) edition (1 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006499813
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006499817
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 208,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

The author of the famous 'Flashman Papers' and the 'Private McAuslan' stories, George MacDonald Fraser has worked on newspapers in Britain and Canada. In addition to his novels he has also written numerous films, most notably 'The Three Musketeers', 'The Four Musketeers', and the James Bond film, 'Octopussy'. George Macdonald Fraser died in January 2008 at the age of 82.

Product Description

Amazon Review

In Black Ajax, George MacDonald Fraser tells the story of a black man from the United States who nearly became England's champion boxer during the early 19th century. This historical novel is based on the true story of Tom Molineaux, a former slave who won his freedom in a boxing match, then travelled to England, refined his skills, and almost became the first black champ. The story is told by over a dozen witnesses to Molineaux's bouts with the reigning champion, Tom Cribb. Molineaux's trainer recalls the fighter's awe-inspiring strength and speed. A butler who asks to remain anonymous divulges information about the fighter's love affair with an English noblewoman. Molineaux's manager, a former slave and retired boxer, speaks bitterly of his disappointment in the youth for failing to prove to the English that a black man could be as capable a fighter as any white man. Nearly all the witnesses to the first match between the two fighters thought Molineaux lost mainly because the judges gave the white opponent an unfair advantage.

All the characters in this novel speak in 19th-century dialect, and it's diverting to try to decipher their many odd turns of phrase. For those who cannot determine the meanings of words such as "Spike Hotel", "toco", "winker", and "wistycastor" from context, the author provides a glossary at the end of the book. Unfortunately, almost all of the characters seem overly fond of using racial epithets, which draws attention to the shortcomings of this book. The main one is that Tom Molineaux, who undoubtedly was a complex, fascinating character, comes across as a stereotype here: a hulk with not many brains but a lot of sex drive. Although Fraser fails in that respect, this novel does vividly chronicle an intriguing episode in the history of sport and race relations. --Jill Marquis


‘Mr Fraser is a great historical novelist and in Black Ajax he is at the very top of his form. Damme if he ain’t.’
Christopher Matthew, Daily Mail

‘This is not a flashy novel, wearing its learning noisily. It’s rigorous, intelligent, meticulously horrifying. Wonderfully well done.’
Nicci Gerrard, Observer

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding read 5 Nov 2004
By Splossy
I wasn't sure about this book. I normally hate books where the story is told from different characters' points of view the author really manages to drive the story along with pace and the change of narrator actually adds to the story.
The editoral review above mentions that the characters are use racist language too much! This seems a ludicrous criticism bearing in mind how people would have actually spoken in Victorian times. The lack of censorship in word and thought is one of the things that make this book really interesting.
It's a touching story about race and fame and 100% recommended for those who'd not normally buy books about those subjects.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb 15 Nov 1999
I read Black Ajax in one sitting and cannot get it out of my mind. This is one of the most poignant, dazzling novels I have ever read. Far from being presented as a stereotype, Tom Molineaux comes across as a multi-dimensional, deeply moving individual. Such is the author's skill that the character of 'Black Ajax' is built up slowly and subtly, from a variety of points of view. The racial epithets, far from drawing attention to the 'shortcomings' of the book (there are none), serve to highlight exactly what Tom Molineaux was up against. His situation is treated realistically and with compassion.
The characterisation and structure overall are outstanding. Each character's voice is unique. The book's greatest strength lies in its utter lack of sentimentality. Fraser is clearly a writer of supernatural gifts.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
When boxing was a gentlemans game and the world champion was a white Englishman, the thought of an inferior blackman winning this crown was unheard of. Well, this novel tells the story of a black boxer and his quest for the world championship. As in all GM Fraser novels all the characters are realistic and true to the time period. The story might even be based on real events, I don't know, but it is a great story whether it is or not. The style is fairly unusual, a reporter interviews people that were there at the time, and records their words. As a disciple of GM Fraser I can only say positive things about this book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fraser's pugilist wins 29 Oct 1998
By A Customer
Turning his talents once again to historical fiction (this time the regency period) Fraser has the reader transported into the action - you can almost smell the atmosphere he creates. Story is of a tragic, talented black bare -nuckle fighter who starts life as a slave on the American cotton plantations and within months is conversing with British royalty. Difficult to put down and excellently written. A sure-fire hit !
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent stuff from the creator of Flashman 28 Jan 2002
By A Customer
I had thought that George MacDonald Fraser was going stale and that the last books in the Flashman series had been dull and one-dimensional. What he obviously needed was a change of character to set the creative juices flowing again, because this was a true return to form. Since reading the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell I've found the Regency a fascinating time, but this novel brings them to life far more effectively that Mr Cornwell's formulaic pot-boilers. The characters are fantastic: Pad Jones, Bill Richmond, Tom Cribb and Tom Molineux himself, not forgetting, of course, the dastardly Buck Flashman.
What makes the novel more poignant is that these, with the exception of Mr Flashman, were all real people. Tom's descent to ruin is beautifully told, and the author's grip on the Regency argot is wonderful. Why can't all books be more like this?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Autres temps, autres moeurs 20 Jun 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fraser has made an art-form of injecting non-historical figures into historical events with his Flashman Papers. Not only is the result a very enjoyable read but it holds up a perspective-glass to the past and a mirror to the present. Fraser's fiction is never less than grounded in the past but a past with which we can identify; these are real people behaving as they might in reality, even if their situation is greatly different from ours. To achieve this leger-demain Fraser has to know a very great deal of his period and to avoid the twin sins of contempt or quaintness with which the past is often described.

In Black Ajax we follow the story of Tom Molineaux and Tom Cribb, two famous Regency pugilists. These are historical characters and though Fraser had woven a tale "based on the original story" about them nearly all of the characters are also historical (bar Buckley Flashman, young Harry's father). It is perhaps a comment on Fraser's choice of topic that the fictional characters are the least unbelievable; he has mined a rich vein of characters. The vein is rich because boxing in the 1800s was an interest of both the rich and poor and it exposed a point in British history where class inter-action was at its strongest, though of course carefully managed even then. The fame of the boxers eclipsed even the multi-millionaire golfers and athletes of today. They resembled the great gladiators of ancient Rome.

Black Ajax is told by the various parties to Molineaux's career from slave to almost champion of England. Fraser has them tell it in the vernacular of the time and in dialect. This is great fun if you know your accents but perhaps less so if you do not. It is, like much of Fraser's work, a rollicking tale but tragedy and human folly are never far away. It also opens with a great first line "The black man is dying, but neither he nor any of the other men in the barn suspects it".

I commend it to you.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
Great read, loved it could not put it down. G MacD at his very very best. Try it you will enjoy.
Published 1 month ago by MR
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Baz the Pedant
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and Informative.
As a boxing fan, George MacDonald Fraser has created a masterpiece. The narrative is brillant, the historical connations in relations to race and, the humour, makes me wonder why... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Justin
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally non-pc but then it is honest history!
Black Ajax is a very witty and honest biography of a famous Black pugilist shipped over from America, to win prize fights for his owner(sponsor); his power, courage, novelty, grace... Read more
Published 9 months ago by edward cole
4.0 out of 5 stars Black Ajax
This book is a gift for my husband who I'm sure will enjoy it as much as the other George MacDonald Fraser books he has read, I was very pleased with the condition and the delivery... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Netty
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction bringing historical fact to life
When you read the actual history of the character of Black Ajax and the way in which bare-knuckle fighting took place in days past, you realise how close to factual history the... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Keith Halstead
5.0 out of 5 stars gmf has done it again
this series of books by George Macdonald Fraser are fantastic all are great reads, no two books are the same not many more then i have the complete set. Read more
Published on 15 May 2012 by Lindsay
4.0 out of 5 stars One of his best, maybe THE best
I've been a fan of the Flashman books for a long time and this was the first non-Flashman book by McD-F I'd tried. I'm so glad I did. Read more
Published on 10 Nov 2011 by Stephen Hudson
4.0 out of 5 stars this was a good read about a distant relative of mine
we grew up knowing that tom molyneux as a great great great grandfather of mine and so it was fascinating to read about the life and times of someone who had such an impact on... Read more
Published on 16 Feb 2009 by Susan Davies
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge fun (and tragedy too)
I picked up this book because I immensely enjoyed the Flashman-novels by George MacDonald Fraser, not because I'm a lover of (let alone expert in) the Noble Art of Self-Defence. Read more
Published on 3 July 2008 by Didier
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