AUTHOR: Yannick Murphy
DATE FINISHED: April 11
BLURB: In the cold October of 1917 Margaretha Zelle, better known as Mata Hari, sits in a prison cell in Paris awaiting trial on charges of espionage. The penalty is death by firing squad. As she waits, burdened by a secret guilt, Mata Hari tells stories, Scheherazade-like, to buy back her life from her interrogators.
From a bleak childhood in the Netherlands, through a loveless marriage to a Dutch naval officer, Margaretha is transported to the forbidden sensual pleasures of Indonesia. In the chill of her prison cell she spins tales of rosewater baths, native lovers, and Javanese jungles, evoking the magical world that sustained her even as her family crumbled. And then, in flight from her husband, Margaretha reinvents herself: she becomes an artist's model, circus rider, and finally the temple dancer Mata Hari, dressed in veils, admired by Diaghilev, performing for the crowned heads of Europe. Through all her transformations, her life's fatal questions---was she a traitor, and if so, why?---burns ever brighter.
REVIEW: First off, this is not a biography. This is a fictionalized, very artistic take on the woman who was Mata Hari, so readers who expect heavy historical detail or interesting insights will be sorely disappointed. It's also very stylized. It's told in short chapters that jump between past and present, with alternating POVs. It felt very effortless to me, but while I had no problem following it, reviews indicate some people didn't like it. They also seemed to have a problem with the author's voice, but again here, I found her very lyrical and elegant. I felt sympathetic toward Mata Hari, and even though I knew how it had to end, I still held out hope it might turn out differently. In my mind, that's a sign of strong writing. That was all I needed here.
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