Superlative nostalgic biography that captivates, set from pre Russian revolution to the 30's in Istanbul;, this should be made into an epic film, a true story of the negro lad who made it good in Russia and beyond.with a host of adventures and struggles to be successful despite huge odds. Cannot rank it highly enough and wonderfully researched. Can't wait for his next book to be launched!.
Now this is the kind of history I love! Vladimir Alexandrov has unearthed the most extraordinary life, of a man no-one would ever have heard of otherwise, and spun it into a book I simply could not put down. Frederick Bruce Thomas wasn't famous, he didn't move in exalted circles or participate in events noted by history, but his own life was remarkable enough on its own, quite apart from the turbulent times he lived in, and both he and this book are worthy of each other.
Frederick was born the son of slaves in the Deep South, but he escaped the racist boundaries of the United States as soon as he could, working his way through Europe as a waiter, valet and maître d', moving from country to country, absorbing the culture and influences. Along the way he learned fluent French, picked up Italian and German, before finding himself in Tsarist Russia, where his colour was no longer the barrier to success it had been in his native America. He earned his first fortune through nightclubs, alcohol and property investments, married, became a respected member of the bourgeoisie and gave up his American citizenship. He lost everything in the Russian Revolution, fleeing Odessa with his family (and second wife) on board an American vessel, hiding the fact of his having given up his citizenship. He landed up in Constantinople, where his energy and ambition earned him his second fortune, opening another nightclub that quickly became one of the hottest spots in postwar Constantinople - before the Turkish Revolution threw his affairs into chaos once again.
Frederick's ability to overcome the limitations of his birth, to escape a country that condemned him to second-class status, or worse, and find his own fortune, not once but twice, makes his a story truly worth telling. Vladimir Alexandrov tells it with real flair and sympathy, and you can sense the author came to have real affection for his subject - and indeed it would be hard not to. Frederick's is a classic rags-to-riches story, and some of the twists and turns of his life almost defy belief. I was tremendously sorry to come to the end of this book and this journey with Frederick.
In 1899 a black American goes to Russia, becomes a successful showman and on the eve of the revolution even becomes a Russian citizen. The research into Frederick Thomas's background in Mississippi is quite interesting especially I'm sure for American readers. But the account of his time in Russia is mostly a catalogue of business ventures. An enormous amount of research has evidently gone into this work and it reads well. However, I didn't feel I came away better informed about this crucial period of Russian history. As others have commented you don't get that much of a sense of the man either, although that may be due to limitations inherent in the available material. For me the most surprising thing, though, was that the last half of the book is in fact about Thomas's time in Constantinople and not about Russia at all. Again this is mostly a catalogue of business ventures to which are now added run-ins with the American consular authorities. From the Treaty of Versailles the Allied Powers controlled Constantinople until handing over to the new Turkish Republic in 1923. This fascinating period of Turkish history is now largely forgotten in the English-speaking world and could have benefitted from a fuller treatment - but then the book would have been even less about Russia.
A well-research tome about the son of former slaves. The best thing about this book is the picture it paints for the time he lived in. A lot of books can tell you about the history of the period, but how rare is it for an American to exist in that world -- much less a black one -- given how the world here operated at that time. If you didn't know it was a true story, there's just no way you'd believe this actually happened. I've read the stories of other black Americans who went to Russia later during the Depression, but this entire story was a generation before that and just amazing for so many reasons.
This is the fascinating story of Frederick Bruce Thomas (or Fyodor Fyodovovich Tomass as he later reinvented himself) who was born in the Deep South the son of freed slaves and who ended his life in Constantinople. This meticulously researched biography follows his life from his birth in 1969, when it appeared he would have the limited life chances of all black people in the South. However, for Thomas that was certainly not to be. He went first to the cities, ending up in New York, before travelling to England. Europe was a much more accepting and tolerant place for black people and Thomas went to Paris, Belgium, the Riveria and Italy, working in hotels and restaurants before travelling to Russia.
When Frederick Thomas arrived in Russia it was 1988 and the Russian Empire was entering its final years, although nobody could predict how quickly and violently it would collapse. Thomas took up his usual jobs in hotels and restaurants in St Petersburg, Odessa and Moscow, before settling in Moscow. There were very few black people living in Russia, but there was no racial prejudice against him, as there were many Slavs and other races in the country. In fact, if there was prejudice, it was aimed at the Jewish population and Thomas found that he was able to marry and set up in business. Soon he, along with other business partners, was running several successful nightclubs and restaurants to the intense surprise (and barely concealed chagrin) of visiting white Americans.
This then is the story of his life as a Russian, where he went so far as to ask to become a subject of the Tsar. This action would come back to haunt Thomas when revolution came and he found himself hated, not for his colour, but for his wealth. He fled the country, with so many others, to try to recreate his life in Constantinople. However, he was older, Europe was in turmoil and life was harder. Still, there is just so much to admire in this book, about this amazing man. This is really part biography and part history, with the Russian Revolution seen from the interesting perspective of an outsider. The author does a wonderful job of recreating an amazing time in history and the story of a man who was not content with his lot and decided to go out and create a new life for himself. Highly recommended.