Thursday, January 27, 2022

Book Review: Coco at the Ritz

By Marisa Appleton

The year is 1944. Paris has just been liberated from Nazi control. Coco Chanel is arrested for corroborating with the enemy. Coco At The Ritz follows Chanel throughout the wartime years, focusing mainly on her relationship with Spatz Von Dincklage. She is living the Ritz hotel which has been taken over by high-ranking Germans during the occupation of Paris. She returns to Paris following a stay in Lembeye. Her nephew André, who she raised like her own son, has been taken prisoner while fighting for the French. She returns now to Paris to plead his case to the enemy, hoping her influence can save him. She is soon in a relationship with Von Dincklage, hoping he can help save her nephew. Throughout the following years, Chanel becomes more tangled in Nazi life. She becomes a Nazi spy, even trying to personally negotiate peace with Winston Churchill. Once Paris is liberated, she is arrested and questioned for helping the enemy.

While most of us may know Coco Chanel as the founder of the Chanel brand, many of us will not know about her dark history and connections with the Nazi party. Gioia Diliberto goes back to the second world war in this novel. As with her previous novels, Diliberto bases her story on well researched history. This stage in Chanel’s life is barely documented on; it has even been left out of the history on the Chanel website. Von Dincklage had friends in powerful places which benefited Chanel by allowing her to live in the Ritz. He helped her to try and reclaim her perfume brand from the majority owners. The Jewish family that owned it had fled to the United States, so Chanel tried to use Nazi laws to benefit her and her business. While told from Chanel’s perspective, Diliberto does not excuse her actions rather just provides some context for her actions. After the war, people were quick to label each other as either heroes of resistance or villains of collaboration when most people were simply trying to survive. At the start of the story, Von Dincklage seems like the perfect gentleman. However, throughout the story he turns more into a villain. He restricts Chanel’s freedom, forcing her to become a spy for the Nazis and preventing her from signing a petition which could save her friend Max Jacob. Whether Chanel really did just want to profit from Nazi rule or if she was just trying to survive, it certainly makes an excellent story. There is no evidence that Chanel shared Nazi ideology, but Diliberto acknowledges the anti-Semitic remarks she was recorded saying.

I really enjoyed reading this story! As someone who likes history, it was really interesting to learn about this time period in French history. I managed to read it in just over a day. Since all the characters are based on real people, there are many famous people name-dropped such as Pablo Picasso and Cristóbal Balenciaga. Diliberto makes her characters feel real; they are not just good or bad. She interweaves actual events and people with fiction to create a compelling story. Overall, this story offers a new perspective from the wartime which is definitely worth the read!

Thanks to Pegasus for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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