Mata Hari’s Last Dance is a historical fiction by Michelle Moran and presents itself as a first person account of her life. It takes the revisionist, though now widely accepted, approach that Mata Hari was framed, both by Germany and France. By Germany, to shut down a security risk and perhaps protect other sources, by France to present one victory in the face of devastating losses.
Mata Hari was born in The Netherlands, but went to Java with her husband, a violent and abusive man in her telling. She fled her marriage and arrived in Paris and established herself as the toast of the city with her shocking “authentic” sacred temple dances of India. She fabricated a romantic past for herself and collected men the way some collect jewelry. Her career and her life were mostly managed by her lawyer Eduoard Clunet who loved her dearly.
Much of the story is the twining narrative of her arrival and conquest of Europe and her remembrances of her childhood, school years and her marriage. There is more than anyone’s fair share of heartache and betrayal, from betrayal by her father to the violent disaster of her marriage.
When the war comes, Mata Hari does not take it seriously enough and behaves foolishly, even naively. There is a willfulness to her foolishness and it ends in her arrest and eventually her trial, conviction and execution as a spy, a spy responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen. While it’s true that hundreds of thousands of Frenchmen died, that was due to the stupidity of their generals who refused to adapt to the changing technology of war. Blaming it on Mata Hari and executing the spy who was “responsible” took the pressure off them. She was a convenient scapegoat. This is the current theory held by many.
I enjoyed some of Mata Hari’s Last Dance but there were a few times I felt it did not ring true. In many ways she was so brilliant and clever that her stupidity when it came to the war was not credible. The groundwork was laid with her fabulist tall tales of her personal history and I suppose she could not help lying when arrested, but it all seems so dumb. Perhaps I want her to have more agency than she really had, I want her to be stronger, smarter and bolder and perhaps she really was just a silly, silly woman.
Mata Hari’s Last Dance will be released on July 19th. I received an e-galley copy from the publisher through NetGalley.