the blog tour of miss k

Today I get to host the new (translation of the) book The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman – Model, Muse, Spy by Jean-Noel Liaut. Funny enough, I was offered the chance to do this (thanks, by the way!) because of my interest in fashion, but I was far more eager to read because Toto Koopman was a biracial model, muse, spy. Winning!

Anyway, this biography takes a look at all aspects of her life, but the common thread is that as a mixed person (Chinese-Indonesian and Dutch) who was well off, Koopman spent her entire life bridging cultures, traveling, and living everywhere. Boarding school in one place, finishing school in another. Modeling in Paris. Traveling to Italy and Germany. Sleeping with Russians and Americans. Speaking all the languages. You know, all the stuff that I would love to do, except maybe be in Italy or Germany during the 30s and 40s. Not the best time for them, then. But anyway.

As I was reading, I of course was in my old mode of “Oooh, Paris! Exotic and wonderful and all the things I want!” and “what a fabulous lifestyle!” and “I want that life instead of my own,” which is truly what I thought but also problematic because exoticism, and because being really into 20s-30s Paris is so cliché, and also because.

But then it struck me that I really find this interesting because Koopman is not the only person who did such a thing. Her contemporary, Josephine Baker, also found that it was much easier to exist while brown if she did so in Paris. And a generation or so later, Philippa Duke Schuyler, my favorite biracial real person (for reasons including that she’s a character in the novel I’m working on, that she played the piano, and that by my own research, she was just the perfect combination of genius, smartass, and queen of snark), decided it was better to fake a European passport than be a racial oddity. Europe did race differently, apparently. And though Schuyler and Koopman were different types of mixes and originally from different countries, I do suspect there was something Europe that alleviated certain drama by making them a combination of exotic and dull, allowing them to play up either one as needed. The perks of being a bit of everything. You can slip by unnoticed or you can be an object, which makes for a great spy and a great creative person, if not necessarily a great life as a human being.

Reading this reminded me of my own experiences traveling abroad, where I’ve found people never exoticize me the way they do at home. More than once when talking to someone new in another country, I’ve almost found myself offended when the person clearly does not find me or my appearance fascinating in any way, and then I realize that I’ve just been trained to think that I’m an object. And in pretty much every other country (at least the ones I’ve been to – I would guess if I went somewhere in Asia, this would not be true, and possibly if I went to a place in the land of blonds and snow), I look like I’m just a person who lives there. Or I look like a person from some other place that’s not interesting. That has its perks if I’m somewhere where being perceived as an American could be dangerous, and it’s refreshing not to be interrogated, but it’s also strange to get used to once you get used to the opposite.

Koopman had this all down, I think. She used her biracialness, biculturalness, and multilingualism to do whatever she found interesting or compelling; she used it to make a living; she used it to travel; she used it, it would seem, to avoid real connections with people (the story goes that she liked to embellish aspects of her life). That’s kind of awesome.

This is a person I want to learn more about. The book whet my appetite but often reads a bit more like summary and timeline than a fully drawn non-fiction narrative. But, like my other biracial heroine, Schuyler, it’s basically the only thing available readily, so until I can dig around some other archives (and, I suppose, learn a few more languages) like I did for Schuyler, it will have to do. Because of Koopman’s multivaried life, this book should appeal to a lot of readers with varied interests, from plain old biography lovers to those in my same research area of biracial peeps doing bicultural things to those interested in Paris life leading up to and during WWII. Also, there are pictures.

But, like a wise man said, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can win a copy. Just enter by September 16.

Click here for the Rafflecopter. And then check out the other stops on the tour.


8 thoughts on “the blog tour of miss k

  1. Pingback: Jean-Noël Liaut on Tour: The Many Lives of Miss K. | France Book Tours

  2. Pingback: France Book Tours Stops for September 1-7 | France Book Tours

  3. as I said in my email, thanks for your very good analysis of the book. You made this review so interesting, by comparing with other people and also with your own experience. thanks again

  4. Hallo this afternoon! 🙂

    I have happily been going around the tour, seeing each reader’s perspective of this novel and finding myself a bit more enchanted to read it at each blog I turn into too! 🙂 I liked how you mentioned the bits of her life that you wish yourself could experience — and I quite agree, life in the 1920s + 1930s for any woman who appreciates the fashions of those eras would have loved to be in Europe! I personally am attached to one more decade with those: 1940s! This is one reason I am always drawn to watching TCM movies!! Ooh, such a delight!!

    Your keen observations on the perceptional differences in ethnicity per continent is rather bang-on brilliant! I, too, in my own wanderings in literature and in life, have led me to this conclusion as well! There are many distinct differences of tolerances and acceptances once you transition from one country to another, as there was such a stark difference between the North & the South [United States]. I have found all the countries in the Europe Union to be rather unabashedly accepting and have a freer sense of how to live and let live.

    I think this is why there has been a slow exodus for some to leave their homes in America and re-settle elsewhere. And, not always of people with mixed ethnicities, but I think those who prefer to live without the structural confines of the society they grew up with whilst here.

    Its rather keen to run across someone who appreciates biographical fiction as much as I do, and for many of the same reasons, as you get to embark down the same corridors of thought and experience as they did, but in a different format than to actually read their own words. I find that many of the women I am discovering in this vein of literature, not only led remarkable lives, but they dared to be different and dared to seek out how to be individualistically unique. [here I am referring to “Z” or Zelda Fitzgerald]

    Have you noticed in your travels that those who are more artistically bent in life also find the same pressures of those who appear to be of mixed origins!? I have found this, and its especially sad. As its the artists, dreamers, musicians, and writers that enfuse such a rich tapestry into our lives!

    Thank you for such a wicked review! I shall enter the bookaway straight-away! As now more than ever, as I’ve have a few stops under my belt, I know I need to read “Miss K” and sink into her world for a spell!

    • Q: What about Ms. Koopman interests me the most!?

      I would have to say observing her raw courage to have the fortitude to embrace the lifestyle and the experiences that she garnished for herself whilst surviving times in our history that were not the easiest to surpass! To be able to step a moment into her shoes, breathe and sense what her life truly was like to live, and walk away with the knowledge that each of us, has a spark of what she had, as we embark down our own lifepaths, wholly true to ourselves!!

    • Hi! Thanks for your comment. It’s nice to see someone so excited about what I have to say!

      Your question “Have you noticed in your travels that those who are more artistically bent in life also find the same pressures of those who appear to be of mixed origins!?” is interesting, but I’m not sure I understand it.

  5. Toto Koopman. Quite honestly, someone I’d never heard of before, and I felt like I should have known about her already. (And I’m a bit annoyed with myself that I didn’t!)I was utterly staggered by the range of her experiences, her cosmopolitan life… She seemed to have done and experienced more than a dozen people would in the same number of years.For me the most interesting sections of the book were her concentration camp experiences, and how it affected her afterwards. It’s a miracle that she didn’t become one of the dead, and that she managed to do so well afterwards. I was also interested in her bisexuality, and that she maintained a lesbian relationship for a considerable portion of her life, seeming to have not a care in the world as to whether anyone approved.Actually, my only complaint about the book is that it wasn’t longer. I could have read about her for another couple of hundred pages at the very least. Fortunately, there is a bibliography included with the book, and I have a feeling that I’ll be reading more about Miss K. and her contemporaries very soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s