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The Black Russian

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  176 ratings  ·  40 reviews
The Black Russian has been shortlisted for the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize (UK)

The Black Russian has been optioned for a TV miniseries or film.

This 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 Freder
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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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 1869, 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 travel ...more
Patrice Hoffman
I don't read too many biographies but I was excited to read The Black Russian because of its title and star Frederick Bruce Thomas. Although I hadn't heard anything about Thomas, my interest in a black Russian trumped his notoriety or lack thereof. The Black Russian tells the story of a man born in 1872 to freed slaves. His parents Lewis and India's farm in the Delta, became very prosperous. Of course, this didn't sit well with the times and their family was taken advantage of by a rich landowne ...more
Lit Folio
This had to be one of the delightful surprise readings of the year for me. I read a brief review of this, and simply put the title on my hold list at the library. There were only a few of us in the queue for this one, so when it became available, I thought, oh what the heck, let's give this a try...well...I read and I read with utter fascination. Everything was illuminating here: the fact that this Black man's parents were so tenacious and successful as farmers in rural Mississippi after the Civ ...more
This is an unforgettable biography -- a real gem of a story about a brilliant, ambitious black man who found great fortune in Russia. Alexandrov clearly researched his subject meticulously and has grew quite fond of Frederick Bruce Thomas. He brings Thomas' incredible story to vivid life against the backdrop of pre-revolutionary Russia. I wouldn't be surprised if this book is adapted into a major film. It's an utterly fascinating story.

The Black Russian is a must to experience. Aside from Frederick’s awe-inspiring business acumen built on intelligence, charm, and courage, this account teems with historical references of multifaceted affairs taking place all over the world, and is weaved into an unforgettable account.

Yes, the passport 'situation' raised my brows several times, but overall I have no argument. This work is simply too Outstanding!
The author's style is engaging from the first paragraph. The inevitable movement of the Russian revolution is presented both the broader sense (Bolsheviks, French military intervention, desperate refugees) and street-level details (roaming criminal gangs of Odessa amid food shortages and growing tensions throughout the country). Frederick Bruce Thomas, a Black American, faced his own potential losses, including a Swedish wife and four children and the ability to live a life free from American-st ...more
Frederick Bruce Thomas, child of former slaves, was born in 1872 in Mississippi and died in Constantinople in 1928. His native intelligence and business acumen resulted in his phenomenal success in Europe and Russia as a restaurant entrepreneur. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, he opened jazz nightclubs in Turkey.
He found none of the discrimination in Russia that he was born to so, speaking several languages, he was able to accumulate several fortunes and lose them to political unrest over th
Granted this book is classified as History, but from the blurb on the jacket I expected more of a personal story of how Frederick Bruce Thomas, son of former slaves, made it from a Mississippi farm to Constantinople, making and losing millions. There apparently is little real documentation of Thomas' life and, according to the author, Thomas was also known to elaborate on his life's tales, leaving the author to flesh out much of his story with conjecture. Around the story of Thomas, the author t ...more
Paul Brandel
This is the second outstanding book about aliitle known,but remarkable
black man.The first was General Alex Dumas,The Black Count,by Tom Reiss.I gave that book 5 stars.Well here is another amazing man,Frederick Bruce Thomas.Parents were born into slavery,after emancipation became sucess landowners.Were swindled out of their land
by a corrupt racist. Their son Frederick lives for a while in Chicago,
then New York working as a waiter.From there his adventures really begins in Europe and Russia. Yes a
Absolutely fascinating. I did find myself (as usual) ashamed of America's racism. While the author took care to point out that other countries had their racist and anti-semitic issues as well, it doesn't help me to understand that this happened all over. (I am not entirely sure this should be in the past tense.) Seeing how it impacted this man's life and family, even while he was thousands of miles away in several other countries, was quite interesting and illuminating. The intersections with hi ...more
This is a pretty incredible tale of an African American from a rising family in the Reconstruction Deep South. His family bought some land, did well, bought more land, continued to do well, then suddenly found themselves one of the leading landowning families in their area of Mississippi, regardless of color. That, of course, means they were about to get screwed. A leading white planter first tried to scare them off their land, sued them for debts they had paid and got their farm. They moved to ...more
It took about a full week to read and absorb this wonderful and amazing story. I came across this read by chance--and it seems much of the time these sorts of reads end up being favorites, and this is certainly one of them. Fascinating, as this man started out in Mississippi with smart and resourceful parents who were former slaves. Turns out, they were quite good at farming and envied by many.

After some legal ordeals (and actual cases where they won), the family moves north. The protagonist(Fr
The Black Russian (cute title, huh?) tells the life story of Frederick Bruce Thomas, who was born in Mississippi in 1872 to former slaves. As a young adult, Thomas moved to Chicago, then New York and later London, where he worked as a waiter. Thomas eventually landed in Moscow, where he became one of the most prominent and successful night club owners in the city. Before the war (WW I) he tied his fortunes even more tightly to Moscow with further investments in real estate. With the 1917 revolut ...more
It's amazing to think that the king of Moscow nightlife in the years leading up to the Bolshevik Revolution was a Black American raised in Mississippi and Memphis. Unfortunately, this book is not without its faults. There is little documentation of Frederick Thomas' life and he was known to twist facts. The result is a book that reads like and extra-long magazine article with a lot of filler designed to stretch it out. Strangely, the author mentions that Thomas was not the only Afro-American liv ...more
Al Toby
Alexandrov does a great job in researching and piecing together a complicated story on an interesting life. Mississippi to London to Moscow to Constantinople, it's a jaw-dropping globe trot into a history of maddening 20th century tragedies.

Hopefully it doesn't get lost that Alexandrov, in the telling of the lives of Thomas' parents, illustrates the sad case of Reconstruction's failure.

The details might've gotten too heavy in setting up the Bolshevik Revolution, but they were critical in illus
Read In Colour
Apr 01, 2013 Read In Colour marked it as to-read
Can't wait to get my hands on this!
Elizabeth K.
Apr 10, 2014 Elizabeth K. rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Daily Beast book review
Shelves: 2014-new-reads
I must be losing it, I was so sure I wrote this one up already. Anyway, this is a very strong three stars.

Frederick Thomas is an American, a black man born in 1872 in Mississippi, who seems to have had possessed an entrepreneurial early in life, but obviously, was not really enjoying the benefits of a level playing field. After working in a number of restaurants and hotels, he made his way to Europe and eventually Russia, where he ended up buying a nightclub and apparently turning it into the s
I was on the journey the whole way, and what an amazing journey it was to be on from the segregated south (U.S.) to traveling all around Europe. The descriptions and pictures lent even more to the adventure.

I only wish there were more answers in the end, I felt like we went so many places and were left alone in the end. I still recommend reading this wonderful book. Thank you Vladimir Alexandrov for your work on this piece.
Leslie Graff
This was a book club recommendation and I enjoyed it. I can't say that I loved the author's style, but the story was interesting. As with other books about countries and historical periods I don't know, I felt the need to do additional research to get a better sense of how this author is approaching material, but it was an interesting example of an unexpected life for an African American man in the early 20th century. I wish there was a little more narrative flair but overall an easy read.
Horse N.
Such a fascinating story. He went from Mississippi to Chicago to Paris to Moscow to Odessa and is finally ended up in Constantinople. This guy needs a Selfridge type tv show. BBC are you listening?

The book is a fairly straight-forward biography. It sounds like the writer had to piece together this man's life from many sources. But I think he did a great job.
This book read like a fictional novel but it was based on the true story of a man who rose up as the son of former slaves and reinvented himself in Russia of all places. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of blacks in America. This isn't the history you were taught in school or the history you were made to believe.
Barry Hammond
A fascinating true story of the son of former slaves who in the 1800's escaped from a life of racial persecution in the U.S. to a life in the heights of the cosmopolitan centers of Europe and to a premiere position in the night life of pre-revolution Russia. All the drama of a great novel combined with the extra pathos of being true. A very engaging read. - BH.
The cinemaworthy true story of a Black man from Mississippi who decides to travel the world, ends up making (and losing) tons of money and owning numerous cabarets and restaurants in Russia (before and during the Revolutions), and then in Turkey after The Great War.
Very interesting biography of a black man who emigrated to Russia in the 1920's. This is a time period I didn't know a lot about. Interesting settings of pre-war Russia, Odessa and Constantinople.
Pat Hardy
May 11, 2015 Pat Hardy marked it as to-read
Rec. by Barbara Williams, but she recommended the book by the focus of this book FrederickThomas
Megan Timmens
The book tells the almost unbelievable story of Frederick Thomas, son of former slaves, who becomes one of the most famous and richest night club owners in pre-revolutionary Moscow and the first person to bring Jazz to Turkey. The author's careful research adroitly reconstructs Frederick's life and emphasizes how the tumultuous events of 1917 impacted Frederick's world. This is a strong portrayal of a forgotten historical figure. Vladimir Alexandrov's blog contains additional information about t ...more
Super well researched & written in an accessible style — just the right balance of biographical information and historical context. Frederick could have flourished were it not for American racism, the Bolshevik revolution and the changes in post-World War I Turkey.
I won this book as a FirstRead.

The Black Russian tells the life story of Frederick Thomas, a black man born in 1871 in Mississippi. In young adulthood, he travels around, working and picking up skills that will help him once he settles in Russia, becoming a well-known theater and restaurant owner. Where little is known at points of Thomas' life, the author supplements with observations made from others who experienced the same thing. This book was an interesting read about the life of a man I wo
Christopher Cormier
Cinematic experience

I enjoy world history and this book not only presents the individual accomplishments and failures of an unlikely protagonist, but also gives detailed and humane glimpses of one of the most tumultuous periods in modern history. The descriptions of old Russia and Turkey coupled with matter of fact scenarios of multicultural existence is a wonder within itself. The possibilities that this book conveys makes this an important addition to my Black American History library.
Narrative non-fiction. Interesting story about an African American man who was born in the south, moved north to several places in the U.S., and eventually ends up overseas. He settles in Russia, and has an interesting life and career there in the restaurant and club scene, around the time of WWI and its aftermath. I do not want to say too much and ruin it for others because it is most definitely worth a read. I highly recommend this one, fascinating stuff.
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I grew up in New York City in a Russian émigré family and wanted to be a scientist from an early age. However, after getting bachelor's and master's degrees in geology, I decided that I'd learned enough about the natural world but didn't understand myself or other people. My solution was to switch to studying literature and the humanities, which resulted in my getting a Ph. D. in Comparative Liter ...more
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“If the first job one has in a given profession acts as a tuning fork for the career that follows, Frederick Thomas was attuned from the start to a pitch of the highest quality.” 2 likes
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