“Her only crime was to be an independent woman.”
“Eye of the Dawn” in Indonesian, Mata Hari was the stage name of the infamous Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War 1 and was executed on 15th October 1917. Her story is one that stands out with bold elements of luxury, glamour, intelligence and deep pathos at the same time.
Portuguese writer, Paulo Coelho has given a new direction to this historical figure in his autobiographical account of Mata Hari in “The Spy”. The description of her execution in the Prologue is gripping. She was neither bound nor blind folded but faced the 12 gunmen unafraid.
The story is narrated in first person by her beginning with a letter to her lawyer. History projected her in a derogatory manner and this impression is sure to change as the book progresses revealing fine details of her life events. Despite the luxury, she was troubled and faced a lot of betrayal which is quite ironical in comparison to the fact that she was accused of espionage.
Although Paulo has got all the historical facts perfectly well in The Spy, the story in itself seemed very short and had an abrupt ending. The characterization was a little rustic. Nevertheless, what is truly astonishing is Paulo’s keen understanding of women which is seen in some of his other novels as well. Many intense lines in the book that are worth reading over and over are a proof of his insight. There are also photos scattered across the book that make it more interesting and personal and cause us to really wonder upon Mata Hari’s life. Over all, a feminist novel coming from a male writer is definitely praiseworthy!
Years after her execution, the Mata Hari Foundation demanded that the case be reopened, claiming that she was innocent and wrongly framed by the French. Maybe she was really innocent. Maybe her..
“biggest crime was being an emancipated and independent woman in a world ruled by men.”
Maybe she was much more than just a dancer with a tarnished reputation. Maybe she was not a spy. Maybe she was just a woman who kept rebuilding her life every time it crashed down and that shows nothing but strength and bravery.
“I looked only toward the sunshine and forgot the storms. I let myself be dazzled by the beauty of the roses but paid no attention to the thorns.”
“I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this. I don’t know if the future will remember me, but if it does, may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.”
Would I recommend this book? Definitely. For those who have never heard of Mata Hari, “The Spy” is a good way to get to know this woman of many titles.
My rating for this book – 3.5/5