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.
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.