Wednesday, May 8, 2013

by Hannah Rothschild

They were hoping for a boy. Victor was born first in 1910 and then two sisters followed. In the Rothschild, family male heirs were extremely important. The founding father laid down the principle, in 1812 (still upheld today), that only Rothschild men could inherit and run the business of running the banks. Women ruled the homes but they certainly were not weak. Most of them were quite headstrong and aggressive.
The birth of Kathleen Annie Pannonica on December 10, 1913 was a huge disappointment. The spare heir was not to be. Nica was named after her father's favorite moth (she told outsiders that she was named after a butterfly). Pannonica means 'of Hungary' (Nica's mother was Hungarian) and means a creature of the night which became very appropriate for Nica years later. The family was crazy about insects. Both Nica's father Charles and her uncle Walter had huge collections (over six million).
Nica grew up surrounded by a multitude of servants with limited parental contact. The food and the routine were repetitive. It was like living in a cage. Eventually Nica would leave this stultifying existence and marry Baron Jules de Koenigswarter. Their home was a chateau in France; five children were born. Soon enough, this life too became a cage.
In the 1950s Nica heard a piece of music that would completely transform her. Jazz pianist Thelonious Monk played "Round Midnight" and Nica was spellbound. She left her marriage and moved to New York to find this man. Nica chose to help Monk and other musicians by paying their bills, taking them to the hospital, spending money by supporting them in their musical careers. This was her true calling and she was finally happy.
Hannah Rothschild, the great-niece of Nica, is a wonderful writer. It's fascinating to read about the entire family by how they first started in business, the rules that were set up, the descendants, the idiosyncrasies, the brilliance. Nica was considered well ahead of her time and certainly was rebellious. Because of her fortune, she was able to carve out her own life and be free.
Within every chapter, there are black-and-white photographs depicting the people that are described in the text so you feel as if you are right there with them.
Luckily for Hannah, she was able to interview many of the musicians that knew Nica plus producers and her own family (even Nica herself before she passed).
The Baroness is a great story of an eccentric woman who was passionate about music and devoted herself to always be there for the love of her life.
Highly recommended.