Book Review: The Many Faces of Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

There are people who fascinate and frustrate, people we call ‘larger than life.’  Some of my favorite figures in history are such people.  Genghis Khan was a butcher and barbarian, but he helped create the modern world.  Sir Richard Francis Burton was something of a cad, and a difficult person, to be sure, but led a fascinating life of adventure and defiance of status quo.  Cleopatra was a cruel, blood soaked politician, and a stalwart bastion of culture and civilization.  Josephine Baker is another such person.  From troubled, impoverished youth, to glamorous world traveler, with lovers and enemies to spare.  She fought for equal rights, believed in a better humanity, and was generous to a fault.  But she was cruel to those closest to her, tempestuous and difficult, and as often as not, her own worst enemy.  She put her life on the line to fight the Nazis, but also got mixed up with some pretty bad folks.  She weathered much and struggled throughout her life, but also did and saw amazing things, and rubbed elbows with the bold and beautiful of the early 20th century.

There are dozens of movies and books that could be written about various parts of Josephine Baker’s life.  An amazing rags to riches story, as she travels from the Deep South of segregated America to the stages of France and beyond.  Or her time working with the Allies, smuggling secrets out of German held Europe.  Or her friendship with Princess Grace of Monaco.  Or her insane, naive experiment, the Rainbow Tribe.  So many stories.  Such an interesting person.

At just under 200 pages, author Peggy Caravantes covers a lot of the major events, and a few interesting anecdotes.  Unfortunately, her writing is dry and stilted, reminding me of a high school textbook.  To have such a fascinating life presented in a passionless way is frustrating.  It definitely makes me want to read a more interesting, more involved biography.

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