I confess to not knowing much about the mysterious ‘Mata Hari’ other than her notorious ‘Dance of the Seven Veils,’ and even then I didn’t have much of a clue what that was! So when I had the chance to read and review Paulo Coelho’s latest book, I jumped at it!
Born Margaretha Zelle, to a middle class Dutch family, all she ever wanted to do was escape her mundane life in Holland. When she’s in high school, she’s raped by the principal and then sent to her uncle to train as a nursery school teacher. Desperate to leave, she sees a newspaper advertisement requesting a wife for a soldier. It’s just what she’s looking for and she meets and marries him, heading off to Indonesia, which sounds quite exotic. However, it doesn’t quite turn out as expected. He’s unpleasant and abusive, and army life is sheer drudgery. When one of her friends, a fellow army wife, commits suicide, she realises that she could quite easily end up doing the same if she continues in this vein. And so she leaves and heads for Paris. It’s a brave move for a young woman on her own, and she has no clue what she’s going to do once she gets there.
Through chance meetings, sly manipulations and downright deceit, Zelle, now known as Mata Hari, works her way into the highest echelons of Paris society, and the beds of the men who control it. All the while she’s so self-absorbed with her own importance, that she has absolutely no clue of the rumblings around her of the impending war. She catches the eye of German intelligence who think she might be useful to them, and they impose upon her to become their spy. Whether she does or doesn’t still remains a mystery to me!
Coelho relies on historical fact to weave a story into fictional letters written by Mata Hari to her daughter, and by her lawyer who was unable to obtain her reprieve. She was found guilty and executed based on extremely flimsy evidence and it would seem that those in power sought to be rid of her not necessarily because of her crimes of espionage, but rather for their own collective crimes of falling for the charms of a beautiful, independent woman. One gets the impression that she was a rather shallow, vacuous individual, concerned only with the accumulation of her own wealth, pretty dresses, expensive jewels and powerful men. Unfortunately I didn’t get the impression that sufficient depth of character was created to really understand her at all.
This is a short book and a quick read. It does provide minor insight into the background of Mata Hari, but if you’re seeking to gain in-depth understanding of who she was, then I don’t think this is the book to provide it.
Many thanks to THE Book Club on Facebook, and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this in return for an honest review.