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Book Review: The Baroness by Hannah Rothschild

The Baroness by Hannah Rothschild

This is an extraordinary story of a fascinating woman, written by her great niece. Pannonica Rothschild (more commonly called Nica) was born into a world of privilege and wealth, but she gave up the trust fund, the handsome Baron and a life at the highest echelons of society after being seduced by the song ‘Round Midnight’ by jazz legend Thelonious Monk. She arrived in New York in the 1950s shunned by society but accepted by the jazz musicians of the time. Her convertible Bentley became a familiar sight outside the clubs and she became a dedicated night owl, giving the musicians material and emotional support while becoming firm friends with them. Most of her attention was reserved for Monk, who she cared for until his death in 1982 – with the apparent blessing of Monk’s wife.

The book explores Nica’s early years, her marriage to the Baron, and her time in the Free French Army during the Second World War, and finally being part of the vibrant, but drug-riddled New York jazz scene. Saxophonist Charlie Parker died in her apartment from drug abuse which only made her more notorious.

Hannah Rothschild has written a compelling and compassionate account of her great aunt’s life – The Baroness seeks to explore the truth behind the headlines and it succeeds in creating a portrait of an independent woman wanting to live life on her own terms. And Hannah’s warm relationship with her aunt shines through on every page. One evening Nica suggested meeting ‘at twelve’. ‘Just before lunch?’ was Hannah’s reply. Nica roared with laughter.’ No. Twelve midnight!’ And that is the enduring image of Nica – sitting in a jazz club in the wee hours listening to her favourite musicians.

#bookreviews #nonfiction

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