The extraordinary story of a unique and unrivaled icon.
In a word, Josephine Baker’s life was unbelievable. When she was born in poverty in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906, that Baker would become a famous singer, dancer, actress, and one of Paris’ most beloved stars was the remotest of possibilities. Yet that’s exactly what happened. What’s more, Baker’s remarkable life coincided with some of the most significant events and epochs that shaped the 20th century—Jim Crow, World War II, and the civil rights movement—and she was there in the center of it all. That, combined with the gaps that remain in Baker’s story, makes her an ideal subject for a novel. Indeed, with an engrossing and generally well-paced book, Jones (The Sharp Hook of Love, 2014, etc.) fills in the blanks and offers a corrective to some of Baker’s fabrications about her own life. Jones is solid as she reimagines Baker's early years, delineating the life of a young woman who refused to give up her dream despite a lack of support from her family, and is at her absolute best when she takes a sustained look at Baker’s greatest performance: her work for the French Resistance. Jones convincingly describes the danger of Baker’s work as a spy, crafting an outwardly confident and coquettishly cool woman who is actually afraid but willing to risk it all. In fact, Jones' deft juxtaposition of Baker’s internal and external worlds throughout the novel is what readers will appreciate most—and they'll wish she had done that for the final act of Baker’s life instead of offering a rushed ending.
Despite the quick ending, Jones delivers a satisfying life of one endlessly fascinating person.