Mata Hari was executed by firing squad in Paris on October 15, 1917, accused of being a spy, a double agent for Germany and France during World War I. “The Spy” is a fictionalized account of her story. The story is told from two perspectives: first from Mata Hari’s perspective, in the form of a letter written to her lawyer, and second, from her lawyer’s perspective.
Mata Hari was born Margaretha Zelle, in Leeuwarden, Holland. Her parents were well to do, until her father went bankrupt. She was sent off to a boarding school where she was raped by the school principal (as were numerous other of her classmates) and rapidly grew bored, dreaming about marrying up and traveling.
She tells her story from a distinctly feminist and sometimes narcissistic perspective. When the rapist principal was ultimately found out to have molested many of his students over the years, Mata Hari observes that “The principal had already retired, and no one dared confront him. Quite the opposite! Some even envied him for having been the beau of the great diva of the time.”
She met her husband, Rudolph MacLeod, by responding to a newspaper advertisement from a military officer looking for a wife. The ad was posted as a joke by MacLeod’s friends, yet upon meeting her he was smitten and they were married. They were stationed in Indonesia, where they had two children, a daughter and a son. The household had many servants and their son was poisoned by his nanny. MacLeod was abusive and paranoid about the fidelity of his younger and beautiful wife and ultimately she leaves him.
After leaving MacLeod, Zelle changed her name to Mata Hari and became famous as an exotic dancer. She describes her path through life as “opportunistic”, acquiring wealth and position by manipulating men of power and strength. In her letter to her lawyer, she says that she was never a spy, that she became unwittingly enmeshed in the tug of war between France and Germany only through her opportunistic approach to survival and that the accusations against her were in retribution for being a strong woman and following her dream. “We all know I won’t be killed because of this stupid allegation of espionage, but because I decided to be who I always dreamed. And the price of a dream is always high.”
From the perspective of her lawyer, who was in love with her, she also was not guilty. He concluded that her execution was simply a convenience, to distract from the times and to punish her for being an unconventional woman. “You were not merely a person unjustly accused of espionage, but someone who dared to challenge certain customs. And for that you could not be forgiven.”
The novel is a quick, enjoyable read (a rainy afternoon will do it) and made me want to learn more about Mata Hari. The novel can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/encore/record/C__Rb11232061__Sthe%20spy__P0%2C4__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=gold