Literature+Fiction,  Women in Books

Was She the “Ultimate” Spy? #AtoZChallenge

“Know what you want and try to go beyond your own expectations….set a very high goal, one that will be difficult to achieve. Because that is an artist’s mission: to go beyond one’s limits. An artist who desires very little and achieves it has failed in life.” 
― Paulo Coelho, The Spy

She may be considered to be the “ultimate” spy of all times, but in reality, not many know who the real Mata Hari was. The Spy is Coelho’s account of the accused World War 1 double Spy – Mata Hari. He places his story close to the real facts; well of course in his own style. For those who aren’t familiar with who Mata Hari is, this book could be an eye opener on who she was.

Mata Hari was a courtesan and a famed exotic dancer. Her openness with her body made her both an icon of sexuality as well as a target to a world that couldn’t understand a woman’s boldness. She was unapologetic, preferring an extravagant lifestyle and exquisite taste in fashion. She used her sexuality as a tool to gain fame and power. Born Margaretha Zelle to a bourgeois family in Holland, she was raped by her school principal at the age of 16. Desperate to leave Holland soon after, she marries a Dutch army captain and moves to Indonesia. However, the officer abuses her physically and sexually for years. After attending a military function, where she witnesses another military wife’s suicide, Margaretha is inspired to rebel and return to Europe.

She soon makes her way to Paris, and reincarnates herself as Mata Hari, to become an erotic dancer where she combines Java-esque dance moves and strip tease. With her titillating performances, she quickly catapults to fame in the priciest nightclubs and becomes the toast of Paris. At a time when tensions among nations build up, Mata Hari is invited to perform in Berlin. Oblivious of the approaching hostilities of the War, she goes only to find that she is being recruited as a spy for the Kaiser. What follows is a twist of fate for Mata Hari and she is caught in a web of political vendetta.

I didnt find Mata Hari inspirational. Nor did I find in her any relatable qualities. To me, she came across as a woman with her own insecurities, anxieties and flaws in personality. She failed to recognize that her own power as a sensual woman could be used to defame her character. She lived at a time period when strong and independent women were looked upon with hostility and great suspicion. In fact, she and her lawyer believed that she was being executed not because of merely being a spy, but because she followed her dream and lived life on her terms.

Yet, when that last page drew to a close, there was a weird sort of sympathy that I had developed for her. So did I like her, or hate her for who she was? Well, I really wasn’t sure. But that inner strength that she possessed, which pushed her in doing all that she wanted to do, did appeal to me. 

This post is a part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge where I write about twenty six women characters from books, who have left an impact on me. You can read the previous posts here- Women in Books

The book is available on Amazon in paperback and e-book format.


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