Book Review: The Spy by Paulo Coelho

In October 1915, they came for her at five in the morning. Mata Hari was fast asleep in her prison bed. Sleep is only ever given to the innocent. “Is it time for my execution?” she asked. They nodded. “I am not a spy,” she said. “All I ever did, I did for love. But kill me if you must.” So they did.

What we know about Mata Hari is always under question, because nobody knew her. Some said she was a spy, others said that she was just an exotic dancer, a wild girl trying to find her place in the world full of riches and luxury. You can read numerous articles on her, you can decipher her as much as you like, but in the end, nobody knew who she really was.

I started off my week with The Spy by Paulo Coelho. Long due in my pile of #TBR, it was gifted to my by Puneet because he knows how much I love historical characters. Especially the ones who never came out of their shroud of mystery. Paulo Coelho has brought to life one of the most debated characters from the history: Mata Hari. A celebrated Spy and an exotic dancer before that, the book is a re-imagined account in the voice of Mata Hari through a series of letters that she gave to her lawyer before her execution.

Born as Margaretha Zelle, she had a mediocre life since she was a kid. Parents were small people doing odd jobs to run the family, and there was nothing interesting going on. She desperately wanted to leave Holland and be independent, to have a life of her own, but in the end, she thought she should’ve stayed there. An older man seduced her to become his wife, and she left everything behind to move to Indonesia with him, carrying only one hairbrush, one pair of spurs, two gold watches.

Once there, she thought that now being married to an army man, she can have a new life. Oh, such a day dreamer she was! Her beauty became insecurity for her husband, who beat her black and blue every night. To get rid of the pain, she learned sacred dances to enchant the audience. But somehow, all her clothes would fall off while dancing. She was presumed to be an exotic dancer with extra benefits. People started offering her cash and after satiated, she would always say “I couldn’t possibly accept your cash, because all I ever do, I do for love.”

When a woman kills herself in front of her, after noticing how her husband seduced Mata Hari when she was wearing no clothes, she decided to move on to better things. She persuaded her husband to move back to Amsterdam, but soon after moving she separated from him. She started taking her clothes off more often, and pay was getting better each day. There was even an artist called Picasso, who wanted to see her without any clothes, but she refused because he had very dirty hands.

Holland soon started suffocating her and she started yearning for Paris. Luckily, she found a rich man who gave her a lot of money when she was naked and also a path to move back to Paris. She met a lot of people, some of them didn’t even try to seduce her, but somehow the clothes of the spy kept falling off. When the war started, she started getting paid a lot more for keeping her clothes on and also moved backed to Germany. And that’s the time where she should have paid special attention, that something was terribly wrong.

The Germans and her fairy father asked her a lot of times if she saw anything interesting going on in her high-flying circus of society. But she only told them that there was nothing special. She went back to France and promised Germans that she would yap everything that she had told Germans about France. This cross-exchange of information, true on the both sides might prove that she was not a spy. But history never did justice to her. With bullets ridding her body to a pulp, she was deemed Mata Hari, the famous spy of World War era.

Paulo Coelho is a magical writer, and by giving Mata Hari a personal touch he has proved himself right again. The book is great and damn interesting with new kinds of facts erupting out of nowhere for young and nubile minds like me, who are always curious to know more about characters like the famous spy Mata Hari. There wasn’t a single moment where my thoughts were disrupted and I picked up my laptop to do a google search.

However, since Adultery, Paulo has lost his touch. The magic I felt in his previous books is going down slowly. I would have loved some more twists and interesting incidents in this book. And why not, The Spy is a re-imagined account and Mata Hari is one topic I feel that writers can weave their magical wand around and make something beautiful out of it. But all in all, this book turned out to be an amazing read for me.


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