Finding Dora Maar, a bestseller last year in France and translated lucidly into English by Vermonter Jody Gladding, is a delicious work of biography, memoir, detective narrative and cultural history. Benkemoun bought on eBay a vintage Hermes diary for her husband. When it arrived, she found inside an address book with entries for Cocteau, Chagall, Giacometti, Poulenc, Balthus, Éluard, Breton, Brassaï, Lacan—an exhaustive list of the giants of Parisian modernism. Through some detective work, Benkemoun discovers that its previous owner was none other than Dora Maar, Picasso’s “weeping woman.” In 1920’s Paris Maar was a brilliant young Surrealist photographer before she became Picasso’s official mistress, and her anguished portraits became some of the most recognizable of Picasso’s paintings, forever eclipsing her own efforts in photography and painting. This gripping book charts Dora’s life--the bright beginning of her artistic career, her masochistic relationship with the brilliant and cruel Picasso, and her late reactionary years of seclusion— brilliantly through the entries of her address book forming a constellation of the lives of the Parisian avant garde.— Dafydd Wood
“[A] spirited and deeply researched project…. [Benkemoun’s] affection for her subject is infectious. This book gives a satisfying treatment to a woman who has been conﬁned for decades to a Cubist’s limited interpretation.” — Joumana Khatib, The New York Times
Merging biography, memoir, and cultural history, this compelling book, a bestseller in France, traces the life of Dora Maar through a serendipitous encounter with the artist’s address book.
In search of a replacement for his lost Hermès agenda, Brigitte Benkemoun’s husband buys a vintage diary on eBay. When it arrives, she opens it and finds inside private notes dating back to 1951—twenty pages of phone numbers and addresses for Balthus, Brassaï, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, Leonor Fini, Jacqueline Lamba, and other artistic luminaries of the European avant-garde.
After realizing that the address book belonged to Dora Maar—Picasso’s famous “Weeping Woman” and a brilliant artist in her own right—Benkemoun embarks on a two-year voyage of discovery to learn more about this provocative, passionate, and enigmatic woman, and the role that each of these figures played in her life.
Longlisted for the prestigious literary award Prix Renaudot, Finding Dora Maar is a fascinating and breathtaking portrait of the artist.
“Part detective story, part social history, part excellent gossip, Finding Dora Maar uses the miracle of a found address book to reconstruct the life of an important woman artist who knew everyone."
—Francine Prose, author of Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern, and the New York Times bestselling Reading Like A Writer
“With a novelist’s eye for detail, Benkemoun takes readers on a journey full of surprises as she researches and reimagines the landscape of Dora Maar’s life in Surrealism and its aftermath. Guided by the scant details in Maar’s address book, which came into the author’s hands by chance, she reweaves the mesh of avant-garde artistic life in mid-twentieth-century France, taking us along with her as this serendipitous tale unfolds. It’s well worth the trip, an informative, enjoyable read.”
—Carolyn Burke, author of Lee Miller: A Life; Foursome: Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Salsbury; and other books
“To follow this mesmerizing interrogation of a vintage address book is to watch Brigitte Benkemoun stir to life an ardent, unexpected, and achingly human Dora Maar.”
—Patricia Albers, author of Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life and Shadows, Fire, Snow: The Life of Tina Modotti
“This enthralling study of Paris and its artistic avant-garde should be required reading for Surrealist and modern art lovers.”
—Publishers Weekly **Starred Review**