American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World

americancocktailAnita Reynolds
With Howard Miller
Edited by George Hutchinson
Harvard University Press ($29.95)

Anita Thompson Dickinson Reynolds (1901-1980) was a multiracial expatriate with a Cocteauesque talent for being present at opportune historical moments and befriending people who would later become famous. This memoir begins in Reynolds’ hometown of Los Angeles (where she was a minor silent film star), then follows her travels in New York, North Africa, and Europe, which she fled during World War II, getting out mere days before the Nazis rolled into Paris. She knew many creative personages during the interwar period and relates anecdotes about Antonin Artaud, Carl Van Vechten, and Man Ray, to name a few. Although Reynolds is very likeable, readers might be bemused by her blithe attitude toward some issues—her white boyfriends fetishize her race and in Morocco she accepts temporary charge of a slave, which she likens to a “happy puppy.” However, she eventually embraces responsibility as a wartime nurse and develops a social conscience, negating some of the impetuousness of her narrative style and enriching the book. Like her personality, Reynold’s writing is conversational and impulsive; combined with the picaresque narrative, these traits make American Cocktail an excellent book to read on a trip.

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