The Spy - Paulo Coelho - Book Cover

The Spy – Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coelho’s fascinating tale of the Dutch spy Mata Hari who captured the hearts of so many men but died in front of a firing squad. Abandoned. Alone. 


“May the future never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.” Mata Hari, 1917, shortly before standing in front of the firing squad – without blindfold, looking death in the eye

Who doesn’t remember the femme fatale, that gorgeous creature who seduced men into giving away their secrets during WWI? Mata Hari, Margaretha Zelle, daughter of Adam and Antje Zelle, could a name be more prosaic and further away from her destiny? Was it her beauty, the web of lies she spun, the many influential admirers that were too afraid of exposure or was she really a spy? Read Paulo Coelho’s touching and riveting tale of Mata Hari and acquire a fascinating insight into the woman behind the dancer.


Paulo Coelho has striven to weave his dialogues and interpretations through the facts of history – the life, loves and death of Mata Hari, the Dutch-born woman who was believed to be a spy and sentenced to death in 1917, during WWI. The book is captivating and you can imagine, although it is a novel, the dramatic events having taken place just as he describes them. The book starts with the inevitable: the death of Mata Hari by firing squad, in accordance with her sentence. We all know about Mata Hari’s execution. What we don’t know is how she felt, what she thought and why she lived her life the way she did.

This is what Paulo Coelho gives us: a captivating insight into a fascinating woman, a daughter, wife, mother, seductress, exotic dancer and above all: a liar. What is it that caused her life to end that abruptly? Was she a spy and if so, why? Why did nobody come to the rescue, all the people she mingled with in her life, the men she shared her bed with. Is there no one standing up for her? Mata Hari as she calls herself – Malaysian for ‘Dawns Eye’ – the eye of the sun, claims to be innocent, hopes for a pardon, against better judgment until her very last day on earth. How do we know that? Because we have here before us the letter she wrote to her solicitor, Mr Clunet.

It is a story about a young woman, growing up in a city in the North of the Netherlands – a city she found utterly dull, where she was raped aged 16 by the principal of her school. Was this a life-changing moment for then Margaretha? Is it because of that horrible experience she was most of her life unable to feel love, to see sex as “something mechanical, something that had nothing to do with love.” Or was it her desperate attempt to escape the oppressive surroundings of the Netherlands by marrying a Dutch officer, stationed in Indonesia? “Change and change for the better are two very different things” as she soon will find out.

Margaretha’s married life in Indonesia is a disaster: her husband is jealous and possessive. If there was any love left in her body, in her soul, he must have crushed it with his demanding and abusive behaviour. Even the birth of a daughter cannot convince her to stay. The moment she flees her marriage is when Margaretha turns into Mata Hari, the seductive creature that uses men to reach her goals. In Paris, to appear mysterious and appealing, she invents an ‘oriental’ dance, in which she removes seven veils until she is fully naked. Her public is mesmerized by Mata Hari’s performance and she becomes famous overnight.

Had she been less attractive, captivating and enchanting, she would perhaps have been happier, the same events and opportunities wouldn’t have presented themselves. As it happens, she reviews her memories, whilst awaiting her sentence in prison. She travelled the world, danced in Paris, Monte Carlo and in ‘La Scala’ in Milan. Mata Hari met with many men,  usually after one thing, she knew it and they had to pay the price. In the end, there is only one who really has to pay: Mata Hari herself. She is an enigma – both a very attractive and seductive woman, but also a feminist role model: she lived her life the way she wanted. Or did she?

Somehow the letter Mata Hari is writing gives insights into her life, the many men she had relationships with, though if you think about it, were they relationships? If there is no love or even friendship, what else is there but lust? If a heart doesn’t reach out or respond, but stays cold, can it at least be true to itself? Mata Hari knows she is innocent of the charges, spying, endangering innocent lives, but is she also innocent when it comes to destroying her own life? The tangled web she weaves – she could have known it would end some day, leaving her empty-handed. Alone. Before the firing squad, defying fear, looking death in the eye.

My Thoughts

Paulo Coelho is a Brazilian author that I have already had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ through his books, of which I like to name two. The first is ‘ The Pilgrimage’ a captivating tale of a man searching for spiritual wisdom whilst following the path leading to Spain’s place of pilgrimage Santiago de Compostella. The second is ‘Veronika Decides to Die’, a compelling story of a young woman, who after a failed suicide attempt ends up in a hospital, where, although her heart is seriously damaged, for the first time, her feelings awaken. It is only at her life’s end that she finally is able to connect to her inner self.

About the Author

Paulo Coelho Author Image

Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro. He has lived a dangerous life: he has escaped madness, was imprisoned and tortured, studied philosophy, lost and recovered his faith and experienced love. These life events are a source of inspiration for his books. He is one of the well known and loved authors of our world. His books are translated into 67 languages. Among others there are the bestsellers ‘The Alchemist (1995), ‘The Pilgrimage (1997), ‘The Zahir (2006) and ‘Veronika Decides to Die‘ (1999). Paulo Coelho has received many prestigious international awards, such as the French’ Legion d’Honneur. In 2002 he was inducted into the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

Book Info

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 Hardcover   208 pages
 Publisher   Hutchinson (22 Nov. 2016)
 Language   English
 ISBN-10  1786330547
 ISBN-13   978-1786330543

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