Famous philosophical writer’s foray into history – The Spy by Paulo Coelho

Book Reviews, Book Thoughts, Uncategorized


Mata Hari is due to be executed for espionage, and recalls her life in a diary. She tells of her escape from a small town and a stifling marriage, and her sensational dance performances that gained her fame, the men she favoured and loved, the dangerous trip to Germany at the outbreak of war. Her subsequent attempts to gain status through different spy rings don’t result in much, but still she ends up on trial.

Normally I’m a bit meh about Paul Coelho. I feel like the meaning imposed on his writing is a little simplistic, and I want to dig into what is happening a bit more. I have only read two other of his books – but this was my favourite by far! I think the fact that it was grounded in history and was a real person helped give it a lot more depth for me. I really enjoyed it!

Mata Hari is an interesting character. The chief tagline for this book is: “Her only crime was to be an independent woman” – which isn’t strictly true, as she was involved with espionage… but remains as the chief element of her story. She uses whatever means necessary to gain and shape her own story, from the shock factor of her dancing to trying to manipulate the spies.

And so she is in a way inspirational: though very self-centred. Perhaps this is merely the result of having to fight constantly to make her way, but she seems lonely and solitary, though there are always men willing to pay her attention. A very interesting character portrayal.

I liked the way the story was told: through Hari’s diary excerpts, pieces from the trial and letters. It felt like a study of her life, where a picture of her came through. I still would have appreciated a little more detail from Coelho, but can also see that as it is, it is enough.

A fascinating little book bringing to life an extraordinary character. I liked it!

Thanks so much to Netgalley for the review copy, I heartily enjoyed it. The fact that it was free has no bearing on my review, obvs.

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