In The Spy, Paulo Coelho shares an intriguing set of incidents related to Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” MacLeod, popularly known by the stage name Mata Hari. She was a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan. She was convicted of being a spy for Germany during World War I.
The beauty of this book by Coelho is that it revolves around a real character with real incidents with a touch of fiction. Little did I know about Mata Hari before I got my hands onto this book. Perhaps that was one reason to stay glued to the book other than the captivating style of writing the author possess. The story begins drawing an imagery of a strong and independent woman and of course not on a very positive connotation, “Her only crime was to be an independent woman.” This gives a subtle underlying message of a woman who has lived on her own terms and has not been treated well by the society. The first few paragraphs in it unfold the challenges Mata Hari had faced from being penniless when she arrived in Paris to being an affluent dancer within a few months. A couple of pages in the book only talk about the luxury items she used to carry in her suitcases while she used to travel from one part of the country to another for her dance shows. She was as bewitching a courtesan as she was a dancer and ‘the era’s richest and most powerful men’ dreamed about her and some of them also made up to her.
Various events in her life unfold and have been presented in an exceptionally dramatic and fascinating manner, so much so that I could not stop myself from going over and beyond the book to know more about Mata Hari. And, to also probably relate how much of what Paulo Coelho has written is her real life and how much of it is a fiction. Paulo Coelho in his usual style has managed to generate curiosity around the protagonist and score brownie points for revealing a character not many know in today’s world. The lady dancer was having the best days of her life, breaking the conventions, setting her own rules, raging popularity, getting attention from all influential men until she had to pay a hefty price.
The scene moves to World War I, when the country was only suspicious about each other’s activities, Mata Hari’s lifestyle came to question. She was arrested on accusation charges of espionage. The story moves in the form of letter exchanges between the protagonist and her lawyer. She was alleged to be a spy agent for France and Germany. Part of the story also traverses through her thoughts between writing letters and waiting for the final verdict. She discloses various events of her life from being sexually abused by her school principle to receiving materialist favors against sex to her other encounters with men and eventually self-realization of how wasteful her life had been.
She has been projected to be guilty of the choices she made and her heart full of remorse and repentance except considering working as a spy when she says, “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.”
Somewhere the book lacked the charm of a typical Paulo Coelho book, mainly because unlike his other books, there was no takeaway for the reader. Despite portraying a strong renowned character, the feeling of content and joy to know such a character was somehow missing. Had it not been for the love of author I enjoy reading, I would not have picked up this book. I’m sure it impacts differently to different people as those who would have known about her history and grew in Holland, Paris hearing about her in stories would be able to relate better. While I did my petty research to do a comparative study on the amount of fiction and reality that’s been presented in The Spy, I came across an exciting piece on National Geographic, exclusively on Mata Hari if you may wish to read more about her (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/magazine/2017/11-12/mata-hari-history-killing/).
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