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review 2020-06-06 14:44
The Spy
The Spy - Paulo Coelho

by Paulo Coelho


This was an amazingly fast read, although it was over 200 pages. It tells the story of Mata Hari, starting with her execution and then flashing back to begin her life story and how she became who she was.


The writing, as anything by this author, flows poetically and draws the reader into its depths, involving the reader so completely in the story that it would be easy to imagine oneself as Mata Hari, sharing her experiences.


It is divided into three parts with no chapters to break it up further, but I had no trouble reading part two, about 50% of the book, in one sitting. This part took me through some quick personal history up to the beginning of the war and how a dancer got caught up in the war machine. Though an intelligent woman, one bad choice changed everything for her.


History gives us spoilers, but reading about the events that led up to the conclusion we started with was fascinating. I do need to read more by this author.

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review 2017-09-26 19:26
Out Nov 1, 2017
A Tangled Web: Mata Hari: Dancer, Courtesan, Spy - Mary W. Craig

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                Perhaps the first thing one learns about Mara Hari is that she was dancer and a slut.  Then, perhaps one learns she was a slut because she danced naked and slept with a great many men.  Then one hears that she was spy and was shot for it.  But the important thing that one is told is that she was very, very sexy.  In fact, she seems to be the spy that gets remembered not so much because of the doubt of her guilt, but because she was a sexpot.


                She also wasn’t a very good spy.  She got caught after all.


                Mary W. Craig’s new book tries to present a more nuanced picture of Mata Hari, or at least as much as one can giving the problem of sources.


                Margrethe Zell was born in the Netherlands, where she lived until her marriage took her to the Dutch East Indies.  Her early life, Craig points out, was nice until her father suffered a major loss in business.  What then followed as an unclear life plan and, what today, we would consider at the very least statutory rape – an affair with an instructor.   Craig’s details about Hari’s early life -  her struggles after the family bankruptcy and her time spent with relatives are related in a matter of a fact way.  There is pity in Craig’s writing, but Craig isn’t turning the biography into a more sinned against than sinning story.  Hari isn’t portrayed as a victim, but as a woman who took control of her life.


                Or if she is, she is doing it by taking a brutally honest about Mata Hari.


                Nowhere is this more obviously in the discussion of Zell’s marriage with MacLeod.  It is a marriage that produced two children, possibly infected Zell with an STD, and was abusive.  While not excusing MacLeod’s behavior, Craig also places the man in context, in particular with his treatment of Hari after separation and divorce, noting that MacLeod’s actions had more to do with protecting his daughter than anything else.


                Hari was no saint, and in addition to her sexual activities (less shocking today than when Hari lived), Craig does closely examine and places Hari’s dancing in the times.  The discussion of whether Hari was lying or promoting a fantasy with her “Eastern” dancing.  How much of her dancing was imply an illusion that everyone brought into, like the body stocking she wore?  Craig can’t give a definite answer but she does truly address the issue, even reading books about Hari that were published during the height of her popularity.


                Craig, in part, is hampered by the self-serving purpose of some her sources (and she is clear about this) as well as a lack of sources.  Yet, despite these drawbacks, Craig does paint an interesting, more revealing portrait of a woman who is usually known simply for sex.

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review 2016-12-24 15:24
Interesting thesis, but thin on details
The Spy - Paulo Coelho

Thanks to Net Galley and Random House UK for sending me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily decided to review.

This novel (as it clearly states) caught my attention for two reasons. First and foremost, because it was about Mata Hari, a figure surrounded by mystery and allure, but one I didn’t know much about (other than having watched a movie many years back about her). The second was the writer. I’m forever seeing quotes penned by Paulo Coelho, but I haven’t read one of his books for many years and I thought this would allow me to rekindle my interest and catch up on his work.

The book is short and it does not purport to be a detailed biography. As it’s not uncommon on books that share the story of a character who died by execution, in this case, the story is told, in part, by Mata Hari (or rather, Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet" MacLeod nee Zelle) while she is in prison, awaiting her fate. In this case, she is writing a letter to the lawyer that was, it seems, forced upon her. In Coelho’s version of the story, written in the first person, Mata Hari (as she’s had so many identities she no longer seems sure who she really is) is very angry and convinced that she will be saved by the intercession of one of her many friends and nobody will get to read this letter. Perhaps that explains it, but, somehow, although I don’t know the historical figures, it seems doubtful that somebody whose life, according to her, depended on her skills for promoting herself and enchanting others, would be so unaware of the effect her words would have. She appears self-obsessed, uninformed, given to random likes and dislikes, and manipulative. She describes sad and even harrowing moments (her abuse by a teacher, her rushed marriage and the terrible relationship with her husband, and the moment when the wife of another military man commits suicide, that makes her determined to escape what seems her likely fate) but a lot of the letter seems to be a list of meetings, trips, men she meets and little more. She describes in more detail the events that got her to end up in prison, but she talks more about clothing and fashion, her love for Paris, and her art and performances (especially to denigrate those whom she says are pale imitators, like Nijinski) than she does about her daughter, for instance.

The thesis of the book (and there seems to be one) is hinted at in her own letter, but more clearly stated in the last part of the book, a letter written by his lawyer, that is his attempt at apologising for his inability to do much for her. He insists that although there was no serious evidence to link her to any espionage activities, they used her as a scapegoat to hide men’s mistakes, divert public attention from the real guilty parties, and distract them from the disasters of war. A woman who dared to flaunt her nakedness, her lack of morals, and her independence had to be punished. This is an attractive thesis and it sounds plausible (and probably has more than a grain of truth), but although Coelho reminds us at the end that this is not a biography and he it is not exhaustive or true in its detail, the gaps and the information not included lessen her, rather than making her more interesting. To me she appeared superficial, and, although it is possible that she was, it seems doubtful that such a woman would have got that far (although fame and talent have a long history of not necessarily going hand in hand).

The style of writing is fluid and creates very distinct voices in the different parts, and the part written by the lawyer was more philosophical in nature, offering interpretations and lessons learned, that hat the effect of imposing a male meaning on a woman (that seems to be the opposite of the intended effect). The style of this segment seems more in keeping with Coelho’s usual writing and it is more lyrical. There is a clear voice coming through in the letter Mata Hari (the novel’s Mata Hari) writes too, but as mentioned, is not a particularly likeable one.

After finishing the book I checked some facts, and they paint a fairly different story, as things were quite hard for Margreet, rather than the walk in the park suggested by the novel. She seems to have been a woman who was a victim of circumstances early in life, who tried to do the best by her daughter and managed to find a way of being in control of her life, even if it meant manipulating others. Descriptions of her death and her final gesture (refusing to have her eyes covered and blowing the shooting squad a kiss) suggest that this strong and daredevil woman was more like the figure suggested by her full biography than the one that comes across in the book.

In sum, this is an intriguing book, it’s well-written, and it will make people curious to learn more about Mata Hari, but it is only one version of this fascinating woman and historical figure.

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review 2016-07-19 15:34
"Mata Hari's Last Dance", by Michelle Moran
Mata Hari's Last Dance: A Novel - Michelle Moran

In this latest tale inspired by Mata Hari, Michelle Moran brings to life the infamous and enigmatic dancer, courtesan and suspected spy. In the narrative we follow Margaretha Zelle MacLeod “M’greet” better known as Mata Hari rise to fame as a dancer and courtesan to the decline of her career and finally her fall from grace as she is accused of espionage.

Michelle Moran is one of my favourite historical fiction writers, this time she brings to the forefront the lives of strong, independent women to WW1 and has giving us a vivid look at how they lived in a stifling era. M’greet had a hard start in life and to escape her fate she created the mystic that became Mata Hari, used her charms to conquer men’s devotion and spent her time dancing and horizontally entertaining them. Although, Ms. Moran’s fast-paced tale is not graphic at all it does leave a vivid impression. M’grett promiscuous, flirtatious and carefree lifestyle captivated not only her audience but a myriad of male admirers from high ranking military officers, politicians and powerful men in influential position in many countries….. In time of war it was a dangerous way of life and in February 1917 spy agent H21 known as Mata Hari was taken into custody, later to be accused and put to death.

This book is not overly taxing and is rather short (less than 300 pages) In fact I think Ms. Moran made a right decision to cut short her narrative. Too many dances, too many conquers to describe would have made this story boring by focusing on the important points and getting the point across we have the base needed to better know who was Mata Hari, her background and who she became. Well-done Ms. Moran

Thank you Simon& Schuster and NetGalley for the ARC “This is the Way I see it” my thoughts are mine and have not been influenced by the offer.

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review 2013-04-16 11:03
Signed, Mata Hari: A Novel
Signed, Mata Hari: A Novel - Yannick Mur... Signed, Mata Hari: A Novel - Yannick Murphy http://www.bostonbibliophile.com/2007/11/review-signed-mata-hari-by-yannick.html
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