Review by Saima Bukhtiar
The Spy is written by the worldwide bestselling author; Paulo Coelho. The book is a story of a strong willed woman, Mata Hari, at the time of World War 1. Paulo Coelho writes from a woman’s perspective, narrating from a letter Mata Hari writes to her lawyer.
Mata Hari belonged to a middle class family. She suffered abuse at a young age and to escape that situation, she decides to get married. Unfortunately, her husband turns out to be abusive as well. Eventually, she gathers the courage to free herself from him and becomes an entertainer and a courtesan. She has high ranking men from the WW1 era as her clients. Mata Hari becomes a pioneer of provocative dance, which is appreciated as art, by the audience of Paris. She starts enjoying a luxurious life style that her admirers provide for her. She believes “when we don’t know where life is taking us, we are never lost.” With this confidence, Mata Hari takes up different roles to please her clients, and starts lying to the point that eventually even she is confused about who she is.
“Be who I am? How could I be true to myself if I didn’t know exactly who I was? The dancer who took Europe by storm? The housewife who humiliated herself in the Dutch East Indies? The lover of powerful men? The woman the press called a “vulgar artist,” despite, just a short time before, admiring and idolizing her”?
Ultimately, Mata Hari gets arrested. She is accused of espionage and gets sentenced to death. Despite the lack of evidence, Mata Hari loses her life. All in an effort to take the focus away from the thousands of young men getting killed on the battlefield. She paid a high price for following her dreams and breaking the conventions for her time.
Paulo Coelho grasps his reader’s interest right from the beginning. Mata Hari’s persona is very captivating. Her courage to walk out of an abusive marriage is admirable. She builds herself up as a strong and independent woman by breaking the norms of that era. Though her early life is full of tragedy, she picks herself back up and starts a new life by making history in the style of her dancing that is publicly acceptable for the first time in the name of art.