From my bookshelf – November’18. The story of a “supposed” spy.


Mata Hari, by Paulo Coelho, is the story of a woman way ahead of her times. She was convicted for spying during the 1st World War, but, from the story she wrote about herself when in custody, she comes across as someone who was falsely labelled a SPY for the sole reason that she did not conform to the rules of the society she lived in.

Frankly, I did not know her story would grab me by my shoulders and take me away to a world back in the 1800s and leave me feeling awestruck!

In her own words, she was a woman born in the wrong times and wished the world to remember her as a woman who lived with courage and paid the price for doing so.

Raped by her school principal when she was sixteen, abused by her husband whom she married to leave her world and move to Indonesia to live a better life, she learnt how sex and love were not related to each other, at all. Had it not been for a dance performance she saw one evening, her life would have continued to be the nightmare that it was ever since she married.

It was in France, where she moved after separating from her husband, that she found an audience for her exotic dances which were bold and seductive. She claimed it was her own dance style that she had actually witnessed on one of her tours around Indonesia.

Wanting to earn money to live a good life as her husband had stopped sending her any, she became a courtesan and then the exotic dancer who left the audience awestruck. Her dances were crude versions of the original Java dances. She wore a flesh coloured body stocking which gave an impression that she danced in the nude. Her provocative style of dancing brought her much acclaim wherever she performed.

During World War 1, she met and fell in love with a Russian pilot. When he was wounded in a fight with the Germans, she wished to meet him in the hospital where he was staying. But, the French agents made a deal, that she would meet her lover only if she spied on Germany.

They also later offered her an impressive amount of money if she continued spying–an amount that she felt would help her lead a lavish lifestyle that she had grown used to. Sadly, she did not receive any money, but was arrested while travelling from Spain.

She was executed by a firing squad for playing the role of a spy, but, according to her, it was because she lived her life on her own terms, refused to bow down before the norms of her society, that she met with such an end.

I really liked reading the book and finished it in two days. A page-turner, it gave me a glimpse of the times from all those years ago– not very different from what we see today–with rules laid down by men to be followed by women who are expected to stay “within limits” and get labelled “immoral” if they dare to live life on their own terms!

Have you read ‘The Spy’? If you have, how did you like it?

Do share with me what you felt about the story of Mata Hari–the woman…



Was she really a spy?

Published by shilpagupte

Do you know the secret to living a happy life? Eat. Pray. Love. Or, watch what you eat, wish well for all and fill your heart with love! That's precisely what I try to do through my blogs: 'Metanoia', the wellness blogazine, and 'Fictionista', my blog for fiction and non-fiction. Welcome to my virtual homes!

22 thoughts on “From my bookshelf – November’18. The story of a “supposed” spy.

  1. What a tale – I have heard of her reference but didnt know her story in detail. Thanks to your review, I am well versed in it now. I wonder if Paulo Cohelo added his thoughts and notes onto this tale?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of the only few recent books by Cohelo that I loved. I thought it was so well written, and I had heard of Mata Hari as a kid, so this really did make for an intriguing read.

    Glad you wrote a review, Shilpa.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I had come across this book, but over the last few months have not had the mental bandwidth to deal with a book this intense, so had passed on it. But your review compels me to add it back to my TBR. Thank for such a wonderful review, Shilpa!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw you put this on your Instagram feed and it has been on my wishlist ever since 🙂 Will buy it when my budget opens up again. I LOVE stories set around spies and if they are about women and real ones at that it is even more fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, I too love reading about spies. And, if a story revolves around a woman, be she a spy, or in the armed forces, I love it a lot more. Fascinating read, indeed! Do read it,Shy! 🙂


  5. I am no fan of Coelho but frankly this was the only book of his that I truly enjoyed. Put it down to my fascination with spying in general and WW2 in particular, but I was always fascinated by Mata Hari till I read this book and sadly it was a case of removing blinkers from my eyes. She was no more than an opportunist and even though she was shot in cold blood, I didn’t shed a tear for her at all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I so love reading your comments, Sunita! ❤ Straight from the heart, no beating about the bush, and definitely no sugar-coating! 😛

      I too heard about Mata Hari and was always curious about who she was and what kind of life she lived. This book sure was an eye opener. It indeed was fascinating reading how she loved using the power she had over people all thanks to the way she used her beauty and body. Opportunist, for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Last month at a bookstore, while browsing, I came across this book. Picked it up and actually mulled over buying it but because my book budget already overshot, I decided to wait. I found the blurb very interesting and now, reading your post validates what I thought about the book. Yes, will pick it up for sure because I know it will be a good read.

    Liked by 1 person

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