The Black Russian

Written by Vladimir Alexandrov
Review by Marina Maxwell

It is always a pleasure to discover any tale that grips you from the first page and leads you along the byways of history – in this case, from the struggles of emancipated slaves in the Deep South to Tsarist Russian cafe society to the cosmopolitan demi-monde of 1920s Constantinople/Istanbul. Frederick Bruce Thomas escaped family tragedy and set out on a remarkable journey via Memphis, Chicago, New York, London and various European cities before settling in Russia where he became one of that country’s wealthiest and most celebrated entrepreneurs. Losing everything in the Bolshevik Revolution, he fled to Turkey where he was forced to begin again even as another national upheaval took place.

This biography flows as well as any novel, packed with adventure, romance and drama. The writing and research are exceptional, and the reader will be enthralled with this man who would have been denied the American Dream in his homeland yet managed to achieve it in foreign societies where the colour of his skin was irrelevant. In contrast with his business acumen and public generosity, Frederick’s personal life was messy, and his futile attempts to gain passports for his family are a heart-wrenching indictment of the prejudices that still worked against him in spite of his extraordinary achievements. Most highly recommended.