Published by Touchstone on July 19, 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
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.
From exotic Indian temples and glamorous Parisian theatres to stark German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who “expertly balances fact and fiction” (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.
I’ve read Michelle Moran’s novels set in Ancient Egypt several times, so I was interested to try something of hers set in a different time period. Mata Hari is one of those names I’ve always known without knowing much about the actual person.
The book starts with a news article detailing Hari’s conviction as a spy and death by firing squad in 1917. I think that’s what everyone knows about her, so it makes sense to start there. Then MATA HARI’S LAST DANCE goes back to 1904, when Mata Hari starts creating the legend of Mata Hari in Paris.
The beginning of MATA HARI’S LAST DANCE was great. I thought the author did a good job of developing Mata Hari’s character and the glitzy pre-war period. Mata Hari isn’t always likeable, but I understood her choices and actions.
I think the summary for the book is a tad misleading, as I expected a chronological account of Mata Hari’s life. Instead, she recounts her past in flashbacks, sharing with her lawyer/agent, Edouard Clunet. Is she sharing the truth, or merely how she remembers events? Mata Hari’s a somewhat unreliable narrator, which I enjoyed. I never knew when she was telling the truth or lying or embellishing.
And it’s her habit of lying and embellishing that gets her into trouble. As the book went on, I could see how Mata Hari’s actions and words led to her conviction as a spy. Michelle Moran neatly planted that stake in the ground, raising the tension until Mata Hari’s trial and execution. But I do wish that more time had been spent explaining the political tensions of the war, as the last third of the book went too quickly for me. I felt like I was missing some critical connection or plot thread. Which does make sense in a way, because Mata Hari was unable to hear much of the crucial evidence against her because it was classified. But I wish there had been some way for the author to make everything clearer to the reader.
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