Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Josephine Baker's Last Dance by Sherry Jones

I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence my review.

Sherry Jones writes powerful historical novels featuring strong female protagonists who struggle to succeed in life and love despite overwhelming odds. One of my favorite books of 2014 was The Sharp Hook of Love, a novel of Heloise and Abelard, in twelfth century France. But Jones is not tied to one historical period or type of heroine, making the accomplishments of the novels even more impressive.

Jones’ new release, Josephine Baker’s Last Dance, gives us the story of the rise of the early twentieth century American dancer/singer Josephine Baker. Born into poverty, Josephine was an indomitable child despite horrific abuse and neglect. Music and dance were her salvation.

As an African American, Josephine suffered greatly from racial discrimination. In the U.S., she could find work only in shows featuring and catering to other people of color. Her exuberance and enormous talent brought her to the notice of a troop of entertainers going to Paris. There, she found an enthusiastic audience and a new home.

In this novel, readers delve deep into Baker’s psyche. Driven by a need to succeed, to prove herself, and to find love, Josephine Baker made some poor choices, most notably in her love life. Still, for the most part, she used men as much as they used her. She did love and was loved.

She lived through tumultuous times, including WWII in Paris. Not content to lie low and evade the notice of the invading Nazis, Josephine Baker courted danger by serving as a spy for the French Resistance.

The novel does a wonderful job of recreating the larger-than-life character. It does a particularly fine job of showing the childhood and early career of the star, explaining how she became the person she was. Chapters covering her later years were more rushed. I almost would have preferred seeing this as a two-book series so that as much attention could be lavished on her second act as on the first.

Once again, Sherry Jones has given readers an emotion-packed fictional biography of a fascinating woman. I can’t wait to see what will come next!