From the international bestselling author of Rebel Queen and Nefertiti comes a captivating novel about the infamous Mata Hari, exotic dancer, adored courtesan, and, possibly, relentless spy.
Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.
As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.
Mata Hari is one of those historical figures that I think many people have heard of, but they cannot tell you much about. I thought she was an Indian born dancer who was a spy. It turns out that I was definitely wrong on one count and might be wrong on the other. She was not Indian, and it is very possible that she was also not a spy. In Matai Hari’s Last Dance by Michelle Moran, we get a look into the life of Mata Hari and how she became an infamous historical figure.
Mata Hari is the narrator of this novel that skips around through her early life and on to her dance career. Born in the Netherlands and abandoned early by her father, Margaretha Zelle learns to take care of herself. Marriage to a near stranger allows her to go to Java, but the marriage is not strong enough to withstand abuse and the death of a child. She leaves her daughter with the girl’s father and reinvents herself, transforming herself from neglected wife to glittering dancer. She performs as Salome and Cleopatra, enthralling audiences and titillating the men who come to watch—many of whom are military officers in France and Germany. Taking lovers with an eye toward the material wealth they can provide for her, M’greet gathers money, favors, and wealth. This patronage of men provides stability, but M’greet’s sense of joi di vivre leaves her ill prepared for the winds of change that begin to blow around Europe.
M’greet rejects the love and advice of her faithful lawyer and lover, Edouard Clunet, and naively stays in the path of political turmoil. While she tries to manipulate lovers as she has before, those more experienced in the game than herself instead outplay her. Caught between France and Germany, she becomes a political liability for both sides. This leads to her ultimate downfall.
Mata Hari is the femme fatale of her day, and hedonism rules her life. She is not a particularly likable character, and her dalliances rule this book. Her life before her dancing was tragic, but her reinvention as the ultimate seductress led her to a shallow and vapid life. I feel as though I know as much about her as I could glean, but I think that no one ever really knew her. They only knew that character that she was portraying. For insight into her character, I feel as though Mata Hari’s Last Dance was not a success. However, for insight into her life and the time period, Mata Hari delivers.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina