Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I am not a book reviewer by any stretch of the imagination, but when I find a book that I really like and want to share with others, I am impelled to do it in language that really doesn't do the book justice. This is one of those times.

The New York Times had reviewed this book, which has been out about a year. That review was enough to put it on my list of "must reads." I knew that Mata Hari, who was Dutch, was thought to be a female spy and was executed "a long time ago," but I was too rusty in my history recollections to be able to conjure up much more than that. Nevertheless, I found the book in the library and plunged in.

What a wonderful surprise awaited. From the very first chapter I was hooked. The author, Yannick Murphy, has lovingly crafted a book that is as beautiful as a bolt of pure silk. She writes with soft and serene images. Her vision of Mata Hari in all her roles - as a child, a young girl, a new wife, a mother, a sexual being, a femme fatale, an exotic dancer and a prisoner, among them - is done with empathy and understanding. Even the hard parts of the novel, which is written as a memoir of sorts, is overlaid with the optimism Mata Hari carried throughout her life.

About midway through the book, I figured I'd better find out a little something about the "real" Mata Hari. Doing so helped me to have a framework in which to place the story, although there is still some questions as to whether or not she was really a spy for the Germans in WWI. I read that the Dutch have her records sealed for 100 years and that these records finally will be opened in 2017, at which time it may become possible to know the truth of this woman's life.

What I so appreciated about this book is the chapters were short, each a little vignette, like another tiny brush stroke on a painting. I was able to pick up and set down the book without losing things, which often happens when life interrupts me in the middle of a long chapter. For me it meant relishing over and over the beautiful writing and crafting of this very intriguing story.

This is not Yannick Murphy's first book. And it will not be the last of her works that I read.

1 comment:

Meg89 said...

This book was beautiful. I especially loved her refrain -- I walked across the sea! It sticks with you.