“Nica’s Dream,” a biography about the enigmatic and extremely interesting Rothschild heiress and tremendous jazz patroness, Baronness Pannonica de Koenigswalter, known as Nica, just came about. And it is a frustrating read on several counts. About ten years ago, I came close to taking on this project but decided against it. Why? The Rothschild family has a policy of destroying or imprisoning all personal papers and NEVER giving interviews about family members. I felt then and after reading this book, feel even more strongly, that I made the right decision.
The book is workmanlike and the author clearly (sometimes too clearly) expended great effort in assembling what he could about Nica. Here all the known facts, plus some new anecdotes, are dutifully assembled, but also a lot of padding with the by-now old-hat story of jazz from the 50’s on. Sadly, the subject of the book never comes to life, and her conflicts and dark side, the very stuff of a vivid personality and a good read – are never explored. To take two examples: she’s drinking constantly (“sipping” is the ladylike verb used often), and eventually gets cirrhosis, yet there is nothing here about alcoholism’s destructive power. Two: what especially vexed me was the lack of any insight into Nica’s frank abandonment of her children. There were five, including very young ones, but only one daughter lived with her. Then suddenly, when they are grown, the kids are back in her life. This is rich material indeed, but we learn next to nothing about it.
I’m not trying to trash the writer here. But biography is a huge challenge and the Baronness merits the full treatment – or none at all.