I grew up in New York City in a Russian emigre family and wanted to be a scientist from an early age. However, after getting Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Geology from Queens College and The City College of New York, 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 Literature from Princeton. This helped, and the quest continues. After teaching in the Slavic Department at Harvard, I moved to Yale University in 1986, where I continue to teach courses on Russian literature and culture. I live in Hamden, Connecticut, with my wife, and have a son who is in graduate school in Washington, D. C., and a daughter who finished college in 2011 and is working in NYC.
I used to be an avid tennis player before I started to work on THE BLACK RUSSIAN. But Frederick Thomas proved to be such a fascinating character, and the search for information about him through a labyrinth of archives and libraries so engrossing (with lots of research trips both in the United States and abroad), that tennis began to feel increasingly like a distraction from what I wanted to do (I switched to a gym instead). So, I gradually gave up the game, although I may go back to it now that I finished the book.
I have found the process of writing up my findings as compelling as the detective-like hunt for information that occupied me earlier. It's a fascinating challenge to remain absolutely faithful to the facts while you try to squeeze every last drop of information out of them and bring them to life in your imagination. It's also a daunting but a very seductive challenge to find a way to narrate the story in a way that is vivid, compelling, and true.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE BLACK RUSSIAN:
"This well-written book is about one of the most fascinating black men of modern times. Like Jack Johnson, Frederick Thomas was a brilliant, proud and ambitious black man who experienced the heights of success and the depths of failure – in a foreign land. Don't miss this masterful work!" Cornel West, public intellectual, author of Race Matters, The Rich and the Rest of Us (with Tavis Smiley, 2012)
“As a reader, I found myself fascinated by this well-written story. As a writer, I found myself envious of Vladimir Alexandrov for having discovered such a remarkable man whose life, both triumphant and tragic, spans continents, wars and a revolution—and whom no one seems to have noticed before. An extraordinary and gripping book." Adam Hochschild, prize-winning author of the New York Times best-seller To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918
“Hang on for the ride of a lifetime. With the verve of a novelist . . . Alexandrov takes one on an adventure through pre-war Mississippi, London, Paris, Tsarist Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution, ending up in decadent Constantinople.” John Bailey, author of The Lost German Slave Girl
"In The Black Russian, Vladimir Alexandrov tells the keenly researched and vividly written story of one of the more extraordinary characters in African-American history. Alexandrov deftly brings to life the succession of complex milieus in the United States, France, Russia, and Turkey in which Frederick Bruce Thomas achieved both his improbable successes and his haunting defeats. This is a tale to remember." Arnold Rampersad, award-winning and best-selling biographer of Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, and Jackie Robinson
“That truth is ever stranger than fiction is underscored by the story of Frederick Bruce Thomas. The highs and lows of Thomas's unlikely life journey are skillfully unfurled by Vladimir Alexandrov.” Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, author of the New York Times best-seller A Slave in the White House
“As the granddaughter of a family that escaped from Russia because of the Bolshevik Revolution, I read The Black Russian in one sitting. Vladimir Alexandrov has done more than tell the story of a forgotten man, he has woven a fascinating tapestry of Moscow life before the October Revolution. The reader is offered a unique front-row seat to Moscow's Pre-Revolutionary beau monde and a hair-raising escape days before the Bolshevik takeover. Frederick Thomas’s unlikely ascent from Mississippi farmboy to Moscow impresario is a surprising tale with those most American of themes: tenacity and self-invention.” Olga Andreyev Carlisle, author of Solzhenitsyn and the Secret Circle
“Vladimir Alexandrov provides a powerful counter-narrative to the conventional Great Migration story of southern blacks migrating North en masse in the decades after the Civil War. . . . In assembling the facts of Thomas's story, Alexandrov relates in vivid detail the political, financial, and emotional highs and lows of this man's incredible life.” Carla L. Peterson, author of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City