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The Black Russian

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  370 ratings  ·  82 reviews
"The Black Russian" is the incredible true story of Frederick Bruce Thomas, born in 1872 to former slaves who became prosperous farmers in Mississippi. After his father was brutally murdered, Frederick left the South and worked as a waiter in Chicago and Brooklyn. Seeking greater freedom, he traveled to London, then crisscrossed Europe, andin a highly unusual choice for a ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Atlantic Monthly Press
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3.75  · 
Rating details
 ·  370 ratings  ·  82 reviews

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Petra Eggs
This is the story of the son of former slaves (his brother was born a slave) who grew up on his parent's prosperous farm. They established the first African church in the area. But eventually they lost everything to the racism of an enormously wealthy white man they had called "friend" and moved as paupers to Memphis where his father was very brutally murdered.

Frederick moved to Chicago and trained as a waiter, became manager of bellboys at a top hotel in his early twenties. Then he took off. F
Nov 28, 2016 rated it liked it

3.5 Stars

The Black Russian is the incredible true story of Frederick Bruce Thomas (or Fyodor Fyodovovich Tomass as he later reinvented himself) , born in 1872 to former slaves who became prosperous farmers in Mississippi. Frederick left the South and worked as a waiter in Chicago and Brooklyn. Seeking adventure and freedom , he made his way to London, then travelled Europe, and eventually ended up in Russia where he made his fortune.

This is a fascinating story and a journey of the changing po
Jun 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Frederick Bruce Thomas was a son of former slaves. He traveled in the US and Europe learning food and valet services from the bottom up. In Russia he parlayed these skills into ownership of fashionable dinner and entertainment clubs, only to have his work and wealth taken from him in the Bolshevik Revolution. This is the story of his amazing life.

Writing this book was an obvious challenge for author Vladimr Alexandrov. There is little archival support to document Thomas’s early life. There is n
Feb 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 so
Feb 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-keepers
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!
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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.

Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Paul Brandel
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well...the first thing I want to say is all praise to the Lord on high for helping me push and finish reading a book! My old school Reading Buddies know it has been a struggle. I haven't completed a book or a review in eons. I am grateful to be getting back on track and hopefully rediscovering my love of books and the written word. A friend of mine when I unloaded my shame of not reading but being sucked into the wonderfully colorful world of streaming television consoled me by giving me this th ...more
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nancy by: Petra Eggs
Shelves: biography, history
What a life Frederick Thomas lived! He was born in Mississippi in 1872, the son of former slaves. Amazingly confident in himself, he made and lost several fortunes as he moved around Europe, Russia and Turkey during the turbulent times of the early 20th century. Alexandrov brings the dramatic changes in this region before and after world War I to life. His description of the Russian Revolution through Thomas's eyes is fascinating. Well worth reading.
Jul 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Elena Rodriguez
Aug 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is the true story of the intriguing and amazing life of a black American, born in the late 1800's, who became a wealthy entrepreneur - restaurant and club owner - in Tsarist Russia and then lost it all in exile both from Russia where he had become a citizen and from America.
What a research job the author accomplished, and he wrote it up beautifully. The story of Thomas's life carries you along through some of the most significant and dramatic events of the early 20th C. - WWI, the Russian R
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Al Toby
Jun 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Oct 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: firstreads
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
Ron Bronson
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
The best part of this story is that if you didn't know it was real, you simply would not believe it to be true. I was pretty well aware of the history of black Americans who moved to Russia during the Depression and later, but the existence of a black American at the time when Frederick Thomas emigrated to Russia and eventually became a prosperous nightclub owner is fascinating to consider many generations later.
Nov 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Alex Dow
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
A pretty incredible story of success and hardship that manages to intersect the Reconstruction-era American South, the Russian revolution, and the founding of the modern Turkish state.
Read In Colour
Jan 18, 2013 marked it as to-read
Can't wait to get my hands on this!
Siyah Rus bitti. Frederick Thomas ‘ın ilginç yaşam öyküsü, Mississippi deltasında, kölelikten yeni kurtulmuş olan anne ve babasının çiftliğinde başlar. Özgürlük, yasalarla saglansa da, siyahlara karşı sürdürülen ırkçı yaklaşımlar, Frederick’i ülke dışında arayışlara yönlendirir.

Avrupa’da bir çok şehirde garsonlukla başladığı iş hayatında, zeki ve çalışkan kişiliğiyle önemli bir birikim sağlar. Ancak, gözünü siyahlara karşı ırkçılığın hiç yaşanmadığı Rusya’ya çevirmiştir. Burada eylence sektörün
Jan 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Anna Perreyclear
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good book. Enjoyed the history.
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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
“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
“The World’s Columbian Exposition opened on May 1; on May 9, a banking crisis began, which led to a national economic depression that became known as the Panic of 1893.” 0 likes
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