Today I have a great book about a relatively unknown yet highly unusual woman, Toto Koopman. There is something about those women who were living their lives in the early 1900’s that epitomizes strength and determination, and Miss K is no different. Additionally, the publisher has graciously offered the opportunity for one lucky reader to win a print copy of the book , just look for the giveaway option to enter! And don’t forget to check out the other Tour Stops!
In what must have been a herculean undertaking, Liaut manages to provide readers with the essence of Toto Koopman, while presenting that information in a way that we also understand that the subject of this biography was notoriously vague about her past. The child of a Dutch father and a mixed-race Indonesian mother, her early life was spent in Java until she was sent to boarding school in Holland and on to a finishing school in the UK. While the uniquely divided nature of the social classes and attitudes toward those of mixed race in Indonesia was certain to have had some effect on her early years, her recollections are all to the positive and spectacularly unusual and more unique aspects of the time.
This ‘creative’ or ‘selective’ recollection becomes a large character within the story, above and beyond the very striking and memorable character Miss K is herself, perhaps her goal was to be the light and life of the party, thus recollections needed to be grander and unique and ever-so delicately exotic, as she was said to have been herself. Tall and willowy, with dark hair and slightly slanted green eyes,cheekbones for days and a rather pointedly amused set of her mouth, she was by all accounts, beautiful. She also used that beauty to her advantage, playing up her interracial heritage when most kept those things silent, and committed to ‘no strings’ in her sexual relationships. And her conquests were many: male and female, a huge break from the traditional role that a woman of her social status and background would aspire to. A loyal friend, and courted by many, her brains were never a question as she spoke several languages, had a prodigious memory and was admitted into the finest houses and knew the most influential people of the time.
What is even more striking than just her physical being and presence was her determination to avoid the ‘ordinary’ at all costs. Moving through her life this attention to the new, different and unique It is a life that encourages your envy: even the less than pleasant parts have you wanting to be there, to see, to hear and to somehow be one in her circle. Not an entirely carefree life, despite her reluctance to discuss the more difficult times, her imprisonment in Ravensbrück for espionage against the Nazis in WWII, her continued determination to live a ‘big life’ shines through.
It’s truly difficult to decipher a life, even more difficult when the subject changes the story to fit their whims or refuses to discuss the details she considered unpleasant or mundane. Despite that, and the occasional feel that information was being loaded in to explain the appeal of some of the people we encounter through her, this was a woman who lived a life that was both enviable and remarkable. It’s surprising to me that she isn’t more well known, and Liaut adds a series of references that readers can use to find more information. While not as celebrated as some other feminist figures, Toto Koopman certainly deserves her moments to shine, and I encourage anyone who wants a feel of the time, the people and the frenetic life of a social butterfly to pick up this book.
I received an eArc copy of the book from the publisher for purpose of honest review for the France Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
Title: The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman – Model, Muse, Spy
Author: Jean-Noel Liaut
Translator: Denise Raab Jacobs
Format: Hardcover and eBook (Releasing 1 October)
Publisher: Rizzoli Ex Libris
Pages: 256 + 8 pg B&W photo insert
Purchase Now: Amazon
Giveaway: As I mentioned, the publisher has graciously offered the option for one of my readers to win a paper copy of the book. Open to US and Canada residents only, with a valid postal address – you can enter to win this fabulous book and meet a truly exceptional woman.
About the Book:
She is the most fascinating woman you’ve probably never heard of. Toto Koopman (1908 – 1991) was the world’s first celebrated bi-racial model, who was known for her work with Vogue and Chanel; acted as a spy for the Resistance, served time in WWII concentration camps; and played a pivotal role in launching the career of Francis Bacon. She was fluent in five languages, led a jet set life in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, associated with royalty, politicians, artists and other bon vivants. She was openly bisexual and beholden to no one, vowing never to marry.
She was affectionately known as Miss K and here is her story.
The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman – Model, Muse, Spy explores the allure of a freethinking and courageous woman who, fiercely protective of her independence, was sought after by many but truly known by very few. Author 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 Ravensbrück. 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 truly possess.
Toto Koopman is a new addition to the pantheon 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. Sphinx-like and tantalizing, Toto conducted her life as a game, and each page of her biography conveys audacity and style.
About the Author:
Jean-Noël Liaut is a French writer and translator. His books include biographies of Givenchy and Karen Blixen, and translations of works by Colin Clark, Nancy Mitford, Deborah Cavendish, Dutchess of Devonshire, and Agatha Christie. Author’s website