The Spy

by Paulo Coelho
Published November 22nd 2016
Fiction/Historical Fiction
4 Stars

“A prostitute, yes. A spy, never!”

The Spy held up. It was a short read that was easy enough to finish within a day and it was told in such a way that made it really hard to put it down. My love for Paulo Coelho’s work is one I have had for years now because he never disappoints me. This was such an amazing read that made me get on the internet to find out more about the real Mata Hari. I absolutely love history and finding out new historical facts and this book brought Mata Hari to my attention. I hope I get to find out more when I’m in the Netherlands this month.

“I am tormented by self- created nightmares.”

Paulo Coelho tells the story about Margaretha Zelle, commonly known as Mata Hari, through her final letter to Édouard Clunet who was her lawyer. She was a divorced woman who left her home country, The Netherlands, for France and made a name there. She had nothing when she arrived in Paris but was able to become a famous exotic dancer at the time and a courtesan. Her tools of trade earned her a name amongst the people but little did she know that the name would be the source of her downfall.

“Even the tallest trees are able to grow from tiny seeds like these. Remember this and try not to rush time.”

Mata Hari took the opportunity that was right in front of her. She was in a new city where no one knew her or the life she had led before and she could be anything. It was a reinvention of herself as she was unimpressed with the life she had before from her boring little town, to her abusive husband and the life with him in the Dutch East Indies. And so she claimed to be this famed trained dancer from the Dutch East Indies where she was born and raised. She gave herself a new name and took to the stage and brought something exotic that drove the people crazy.

“He failed to understand that dance is a poem, one where each movement represents a word.”

The life she led as a courtesan she blames on a childhood incident and mentions it in the letter. That is what earned her the title of an independent woman who was free to do as she pleases. She was not held down by a man or a family but was a recipient of flashy gifts from men who held high positions. She had the ability to travel around Europe because she held a passport from a neutral country. But the free and easy life did not last forever ad as the times changed, so did people’s opinion of her. She was no longer seen as the free spirited woman but as a prostitute.

“People say life is not that complicated, but life is very complicated.”

This brief version of her life as told by Paulo Coelho is romanticized but as I started looking into the real story, the differences were minuscule. Her portrayal was that of a prostitute by the end of it all but in a sense she would have been today’s socialite. Charming the rich men to be able to live a lavish lifestyle, at least by the Kenyan standard of socialites. But the French, who were so in love with her just a short while before her execution, decided to pin her with their downfall.

“Sin was not created by God; it was created by us when we tried to transform what was inevitable into something subjective. We ceased to see the whole and came to see just one part; and that part is loaded with guilt, rules, good versus evil, and each side thinking it’s right.”

I loved the book and the way it was able to expand my knowledge about the life before World War I. History lover that I am, I have spent the last two days digging deep into those notes and I have enjoyed the newly acquired knowledge of the famed ‘spy’.  Her only guilt was manipulation but she did not do anything that warranted the death by a firing squad. They took an opportunity to bring down a woman who was well known by the people and whose lifestyle was starting to be questioned by many as the times changed.

“Take this with you Margaretha. They’re tulip seeds, the symbol of our country. But more than that, they represent a truth you must learn. These seeds will always be tulips, even if at the moment you cannot tell them apart from other flowers. They will never turn into roses or sunflowers, no matter how much they desire to. And if they try to deny their own existence, they will live life bitter and die. So you must learn to follow your destiny, whatever it may be, with joy.”

My review is based on the ARC I received through Netgalley and the quotes might have changed in the final copy.


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