Mata Hari's Last Dance by Michelle Moran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I found this to be a very enjoyable, light summer read. It is definitely more of a fictionalized account of a historical life than a revealing study of a historical figure. Situations are invented. Complications are glossed over. But the author does an admirable job of finding a winsome voice for Mata Hari and setting the scene in pre-World War I Paris.
Readers seeking a complete biography of Mata Hari and an deep introspection into her life will not find that here. This novelized memoir catches up with the exotic dancer just as she bursts onto the Paris social scene around 1904. It follows her life, as if she were telling it to a trusted friend, through her execution for espionage in 1917. In between, her dance career waxes and wanes, her assignations with various sponsors and lovers are vaguely documented and dispatched dispassionately, and her desire to rejoin her daughter and take her to America becomes her mantra.
Despite the light tone and lack of historical rigor, I found Margaretha's story to be fascinating. The tiny insights into the European social scene and pre-war history were intriguing. Before reading this book, I only knew the stereotypical popular myths about Mata Hari and her exotic reputation as a spy. I now feel like I have a greater empathy for this well-known, yet little understood, historical figure. Her life remains as veiled in mystery as the characters she portrayed in her dance.
This would be an easy book for a reading group to consume and discuss over a short period of time. There are even discussion questions provided. Four stars for being a good, entertaining read.
[Disclaimer: Thanks to Courtney Brach and Touchstone / Simon & Schuster for providing me a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.]
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