I dunno. This book is such a complicated morass of internalized racism, straight up racism, and deep insights on racism. I read this book because I've been a long time fan of Dumas, having read Three Musketeers when I was but a tot and being a huge fan of Count of Monte Cristo when I got older. One of the things that I never knew until much after I read Monte Cristo was that Dumas was a mixed race man, who had a badass as hell mixed race father (whose life chronicle is amazingly documented in [b: The Black Count|13330922|The Black Count Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo|Tom Reiss|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1337693786s/13330922.jpg|18538602]) and suffered the prejudice and racism of his own time period. It is interesting to me, then, that this person wrote such intense books about revenge, chivalry, loyalty, betrayal, and really never about race.
So when I heard about a book where he had
focused on it as a core of the plot, even, I jumped at the chance to read it.
The book is immensely complicated, and I have immensely complicated feelings about it. For every insightful, meaningful thing Dumas manages to manifest on his commentary of Georges vs Henri, I feel bombarded by awkwardly horrible presumptions made of the few Asians on the island (I mean, Miko-Miko is referred to as "the Jew of the island" which is SUCH a terrible sentence in SO MANY WAYS, not to mention how Antonio is explicitly described by comparing him to an orangutan). It's as if in the discussion of white vs black, the floodgates to talk about all races is opened, and that bushel of apples is a complicated one.
I wouldn't edit them out - it reflects obviously how complicated race can be, and certainly Dumas doesn't shy away from terrible stuff to say about other black people - there is a clear delineation of the elite, educated, and awesome mixed race people (the Muniers) and the general black populations, who are mostly slaves. Dumas still depicts them more or less as savages, intermittently referring to their simple nature, and even making their propensity for drink a plot point in the book. White people, on the other hand, are not nearly as vilified or even condescended. So Henri and his dad are idiot racists, but they're the straw-villains; I don't care. And god knows it's nice enough that the straw-villains are white people and we're actually, for real, talking about race, and not prejudices people compare to racism, because that doesn't always happen. But otherwise, Henrietta or Sara are not discussed of having feeble minds - nor, actually, is Henri. Most of Georges' closer friends and companions are white; Laiza, in contrast, serves more as a devotee and servant. It's pretty damn clear that Monseiur Dumas has got a couple of things to work out with himself. I don't know if he did, because he really never gets into it, from other books I've read of his, but man, it's complicated.
Henri doesn't even die in the book! Yes, it reminds me of Danglars walking happy at the end of Cristo, and I didn't like it there either. In both there are characters that did comparatively little versus the main villains (Cristo has Villefort, Georges has Lord William) that get harsher punishments, while the person who you're wanting to see hang waltzes away. I suppose it could reflect Dumas' need to show that we don't get everything we want, but hell, at least Danglars repents! Henri I wanted to see at least even more humiliated, though a stabbing would have sufficed.
Georges also suffers Dumas' brand of borderline Mary Sue badassitry. Speaking of Monte Cristo, it's basically Edmond, for both Edmond and Georges suffer only the difficulties of being so ding dang awesome at everything (in Edmond's case, also several years of unfair and hideous treatment in prison). Which, I guess now that I'm older, I have less patience for. In Georges, I did feel somewhat more justified in being okay with it, however, being that it Georges is not typically the type of character I'm used to reading about. Well, okay, a dude who's awesome at everything is something that I'm more than used to, but a minority being that person is a rarity even today. Not to mention that it was nice to see Georges confronted with his pride and arrogance, though his time of mulling about it is pretty
The unfortunate thing is the fact that I do have a lot to love about this book. Even Dumas' introductory descriptions, the way the describes the continent as being able to see all around you, the fact that Sara actually isn't a terribly written character, the moments of sharp clarity Dumas does have about race, these would be enough to recommend this book, and make it difficult to hate. Bits like when Jacques comes back, and Dumas describes the Muniers as one who suffered prejudice, one who exploits prejudice, and one who would fight to the death to destroy it?
Dumas is a great wordsmith - that is evident even in translation.
And the action-y parts are super fun! I wish more of it was
the revolt, as opposed to saving the cool action scene for the finale, which also kind of stutters to a halt. I got to the notes on my copy and I was like "I'm sorry, what? Why is this next chapter all notes- oh."
So, as I said: I dunno. I'm glad I read this book, and to edit the unseemly bits out would be to do it a discredit, both to the book and the complications of race both outside and within Dumas. But does that make any of the terrible depictions and descriptions any more bearable? I would say not really.