the spy by paulo coelho

The Spy is a historical fiction by Paulo Coelho based on a real figure’s life. The novel is about Mata Hari a very famous exotic dancer and courtesan who was always looked upon as prostitute and later on as a spy but there is a sad and tragic story behind this marvelous looking diva.

I don’t claim to know much about Mata Hari. In fact it was only after reading the novel that I did some search about her. The novel is the blend of fiction and facts and after doing some searching I found that the author has chosen facts which suited the novel’s story line.

The novel starts with the execution of Mata Hari which was itself heart rendering to read. I almost imagine it happening it in front of my eye. She was shown as courageous and gracious in her last moments which automatically generates soft feelings for her and arises curiosity to know what transpire to meet such a fate.

From here on the novel takes the format of letter where Mata Hari wrote letter for her daughter addressed to her lawyer. In the last part her lawyer’s letter reveals how she was made scapegoat and blunders committed in handling the case.

Mata Hari was born as Margaretha Zelle. She was raped by her school principal and continuously abused by her husband till one day she thought it was enough and divorced her husband. She had a daughter from the marriage and a son who passed away while a toddler. It was a sad story to read till here.

She comes to Paris and becomes an exotic dancer to earn a living. It is here the author was lethargic. He depicted a smooth transition from Margaretha Zelle to Mata Hari without any trouble while in reality it was very painful for her.  So this part was rather very unconvincing to read. 

Paris life before First World War was realistically portrayed  so was her dance performance. I was wondering how she managed such a stripping dance during those time. She was definitely born in the wrong time as she wrote in her letter.

Paulo has portrayed Mata Hari not as a poor traumatized woman who have suffered a lot but as a fiercely independent woman who had endured many hardship in life but that didn’t stop her from living her life on her terms and may be for this reason she paid the price by her life.

Mata Hari ends her letter with a heart touching story of a Nightingale which really made me cry. She clearly showed how she was always loyal to France and was not a double agent yet she suffered deeply.

The last part of the book is also a letter which Mata Hari’s lawyer wrote her. Through this letter, the author has narrated the scenario how things went wrong for Mata Hari, and how she was made scapegoat by a real traitor of France and why she was never proved innocent which was tough during war time. 

Barring the transition of Mata Hari from Margaretha Zelle, Paulo has given a vivid narration of Mata Hari’s life and how a expert manipulator became entangled in the devious manipulation and took away her life.

The Verdict:

It is a thin pacy book and could be read if someone wants to read a fictional form of Mata Hari’s life instead of reading it from Wikipedia. 

But of course there are many information and details missing so please don’t consider as a ultimate fictional biography of Mata Hari. 




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Ritu Mantri

Ritu is an avid book reader. She also reviews books and have reviewed around 200+ books till date. Her target is to finish 1000 books.

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