Born the son of slaves in America’s Deep South, he escaped the stifling racism of his native land to pursue a dream of freedom, wealth and personal happiness that took him from Brussels to Monte Carlo, and from Moscow to Constantinople. Embracing triumph and tragedy and spanning continents, wars and revolution, his life story is as colourful as it is improbable. He is the ‘Black Russian’.
Frederick Bruce Thomas was born in 1872 to former slaves who had become prosperous farmers in Mississippi. When his father was brutally murdered, the teenaged Frederick fled the Deep South and headed for New York City, where he worked as a waiter and valet. Deploying charm, charisma and cunning, he emigrated to Europe, criss-crossing that continent to find employment as a multilingual waiter in locations as diverse as London and Leipzig, Venice and Vienna, before settling in Moscow in 1899. There he married twice, acquired a mistress, and became one of that city’s richest and most f?ted restaurateurs and nightclub impresarios. But then came the shock of the Bolshevik Revolution. Frederick and his family were forced to flee Russia for Constantinople, where, ever resourceful, he reinvented himself afresh, opening nightclubs that introduced jazz to Turkey. However, Frederick’s luck was finally running out: the long arm of American racism and his own extravagance landed him in a debtor’s prison in 1927, after which death came swiftly.
Written with a novelist’s verve, The Black Russian is both the extraordinary story of the most engaging and unexpected of heroes, and a meticulously researched and richly characterized tour of the changing political and cultural landscape of the early twentieth century.