Book Review: Paulo Coelho gives Mata Hari his superficial treatment with The Spy

Margaretha Zelle, better known to history as Mata Hari, was a crucial cultural figure in early 20th-century Europe. She was a courtesan and a libertine, a famed exotic dancer whose scandalous comfort and openness with her body made her both an icon of sexuality and a target to an old-world order that couldn’t comprehend of a woman with her boldness. In 1917, on evidence that was dubious at best, willfully ignored otherwise, she was tried as a German spy and executed.

Having lived one of the most dramatic lives imaginable in an intensely exciting period, it isn’t surprising that Mata Hari has retained her cultural currency for almost a century after her death, most famously with a Greta Garbo film from 1931. Her life, or at least the popular story and legend surrounding it, combines sexy wartime intrigue with a bold and unapologetic woman—either a cunning navigator …

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