Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE BARONESS by Hannah Rothschild

THE BARONESS

The Search for Nica, the Rebellious Rothschild

By Hannah Rothschild

Pub Date: March 19th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0307961983
Publisher: Knopf

The fascinating story of a member of Europe’s banking aristocracy who spent the second half of her life swinging with New York’s jazz aristocracy.

British filmmaker Hannah Rothschild’s print debut is based on a BBC documentary she made about her great-aunt Nica (1913–1988). The book is an engaging mixture of well-researched biography and personal reminiscences about her formidable relatives. A cogent account of the Rothschilds’ rise from Frankfurt’s bleak Jewish ghetto to the international capitals of finance makes palpable the world of privileged confinement Nica inhabited. Born into the English branch, Nica thought she could escape by marrying a glamorous French executive, but he proved as stuffy as her family. After giving birth to five children and narrowly escaping from France during the Nazi occupation, she was a restless diplomat’s wife on her way back to his posting in Mexico when she first heard the music of Thelonious Monk. “I never went home,” she later told her great-niece. She checked into New York’s Stanhope Hotel and was soon driving Monk and other then-unappreciated pioneers of the bebop revolution to gigs in her Rolls Royce. Hannah paints the attachment to Monk (who was married) as devoted friendship rather than an affair, though she also quotes scornful observers who viewed Nica as a rich groupie, an opinion reinforced in 1955 when Charlie Parker died of an overdose in her apartment. Hannah’s account of Nica’s relationships with these often troubled and drug-addicted musicians, which included taking the rap for Monk when Delaware police pulled them over in 1958 and found marijuana in her car, shows her to be a stalwart champion of their music and their civil rights. Hard-drinking, night-clubbing Nica comes across as an eccentric free spirit to equal the artists she idolized.

An affectionate biography of a woman who in her late 30s finally saw the life she wanted and grabbed it.