Kiki's Memoirs

Kiki, Author, Billy Kluver, Editor, Samuel Putnam, Translator
Kiki, Author, Billy Kluver, Editor, Samuel Putnam, Translator Ecco $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-88001-496-0
Reviewed on: 11/04/1996
Release date: 11/01/1996
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Now as then a cultural curiosity, the resurrected reminiscences of 1920s Latin Quarter model ""Kiki"" appear with the original prefaces by artist Tsuguharu Foujita and Ernest Hemingway, the latter of whom described her as ""a woman who was never a lady at any time."" The French edition was released in 1929; an English translation was denied entry by U.S. customs the next year on grounds of obscenity, owing to the reproductions of paintings by Foujita and photographs by Man Ray that accompanied the slim text. An illegitimate village waif raised in poverty by her grandmother, Alice Prin was born in 1901. At 12 she joined her mother in Paris only to go off on her own at 14 as model for, then mistress to, a generation of sculptors, painters and photographers. Merely an amateur at more professional entertainment, she nevertheless sang in sleazy clubs, appeared in nine films, danced in Fernand Leger's Ballet Mecanique. Offered freely, her svelte body brought her fame without fortune. When journalist Henri Brocca arranged for publication of her memoir, and news spread that for 30 francs, one could acquire an autographed book and a kiss from Kiki, men discarded their dignity in the rush. Once depression and war put an end to her brand of frivolity, she contended that all she required was ""an onion, a bit of bread, and a bottle of red,"" and she usually found ""somebody to offer me that."" Nearly forgotten, she survived into 1951. Putnam's 1930 translation evokes Kiki's childlike qualities. Insubstantial despite the prefaces, dozens of illustrations, including the author's own naif pictures, and--as supplement--three autobiographical articles for a Paris paper in 1950 that repeat much of the memoir, Kiki's offering is more artifact than art. Kluver and Martin are the coauthors of Kiki's Paris. (Nov.)
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