From the back cover: A life of glamour and tragedy, set against the watershed cultural and political movements of twentieth-century Europe. "Toto" Koopman (1908–1991) is a new addition to the set of iconoclastic women whose biographies intrigue and inspire modern-day readers. Like her contemporaries Lee Miller or Vita Sackville-West, Toto lived with an independent spirit more typical of the men of her generation, moving in the worlds of fashion, society, art, and politics with an insouciant ease that would stir both admiration and envy even today. Sphinxlike and tantalizing, Toto conducted her life as a game, driven by audacity and style. Jean-Noël Liaut chases his enigmatic subject through the many roles and lives she inhabited, both happy and tragic. Though her beauty, charisma, and taste for the extraordinary made her an exuberant fixture of Paris fashion and café society, her intelligence and steely sense of self drove her toward bigger things, culminating in espionage during WWII, for which she was imprisoned by the Nazis in Ravensbruck. After the horrors of the camp, she found solace in Erica Brausen, the German art dealer who launched the career of Francis Bacon, and the two women lived out their lives together surrounded by cultural luminaries like Edmonde Charles-Roux and Luchino Visconti. But even in her later decades, Toto remained impossible for anyone to possess. The Many Lives of Miss K explores the allure of a freethinking and courageous woman who, fiercely protective of her independence, was sought after by so many but ultimately known by very few.
My review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Miss K was a woman unlike any other that I have ever read about. In the beginning of the book I thought of Miss K. as being rather self-centered and spoilt. She liked the party life and did not hesitate to surround herself with those of enjoyed the good life. Miss K. started her career as a model at Chanel. The exposure she obtained at Chanel introduced her to the cafe society in Paris. Many of the individuals she surrounded herself with had nothing more to offer the world than their beauty, money and ability to enjoy life. As WW11 approached, Miss K. found that she had skills that she could offer the Allies. Given Miss K's Indonesian and Dutch heritage she was multilingual. This skill was both an asset and what would later lead to her demise. Miss. K. took up the cause to fight the allies just to find herself imprisoned by the Nazi's. After her release she stayed in Italy to assist with the cause just to find herself imprisoned again.
Imprisoned under the Nazi's in a concentration camp Miss K.'s health and mental state deteriorated. However Miss K's was innovative in her will to survive. Miss K. was kind to the other prisoners and fought to keep her fellow prisoners alive.
The life that Toto Koopman was truly unbelievable. While I started off disliking her, by the end of the book I had a certain respect for the woman. The book was a great read.
Thank you to Rizzoli Publishing for providing me with a copy.
This is my contribution to Dreaming of France, hosted by Paulita at An Accidental Blog.
Cooking is one of my passions in life. Enjoying good food, pastries, chocolate and everything the French have to savor is my other. This should come as a surprise given my father chose my name after reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
I am a voracious reader and collector of cookbooks. Little did I know that all my grade school French lessons would come in handy one day.