The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman—Model, Muse, Spy

Jean-Noël Liaut, trans. from the French by Denise Raab Jacobs. Rizzoli ex libris, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-8478-4129-5
Born and raised in Java to a Dutch cavalry officer and a half-Indonesian woman, Catharina “Toto” Koopman (1908–1991) became one of the first biracial models to achieve fame in Paris in the late 1920s. In Liaut’s exuberant, though disorganized telling, her life reads like that of a spectacularly well-connected Bond girl. After becoming a fixture at parties in Paris and London, achieving notoriety through her affairs with such figures as American actress Tallulah Bankhead, British billionaire Lord Beaverbrook, as well as his son, she turned to politics, becoming a renegade spy for the Italian resistance and the Allies. Liaut provides few details about Koopman’s “ideological convictions” other than to state that she has them. During the war, she was imprisoned in Italy and sent to Germany’s Ravensbruck concentration camp. These dramatic turns in Koopman’s life are glossed over in only a few pages, with the narrative then giving way to a long list of artists, heiresses, and eccentrics that Koopman circulated among in her later years. She spent the rest of her life involved with the gallerist Erica Brausen, who financed Koopman’s lavish lifestyle. Liaut’s chronicle of Koopman’s life leans heavily on the superlative, while Koopman herself remains a mystery. The result is a gauzy tabloid account of a genuinely remarkable life. 8-page b&w photo insert. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/15/2013
Release date: 09/03/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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