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Signed, Mata Hariby Yannick Murphy
Synopses & Reviews
In the cold October of 1917 Margaretha Zelle, better known as Mata Hari, sits in a prison cell in Paris awaiting trial on charges of espionage. The penalty is death by firing squad. As she waits, burdened by a secret guilt, Mata Hari tells stories, Scheherazade-like, to buy back her life from her interrogators. From a bleak childhood in the Netherlands, through a loveless marriage to a Dutch naval officer, Margaretha is transported to the forbidden sensual pleasures of Indonesia. In the chill of her prison cell she spins tales of rosewater baths, native lovers, and Javanese jungles, evoking the magical world that sustained her even as her family crumbled. And then, in flight from her husband, Margaretha reinvents herself: she becomes an artist's model, circus rider, and finally the temple dancer Mata Hari, dressed in veils, admired by Diaghilev, performing for the crowned heads of Europe. Through all her transformations, her life's fatal questions — was she a traitor, and if so, why? — burns ever brighter.
"'In life, at least before the espionage charges, it was Mata Hari's body that made her mesmerizing; in this alluring novel, it is her hypnotic voice. As softly poetic as it is insistent, it entices the reader from the first lines to give Mata Hari what she always craved: not the secrets that are the currency of a spy, but the rapt attention that is oxygen to a performer. Shifting time and perspective, the tale moves among Mata Hari's early childhood in the late 19th-century Netherlands, her years in Java as a caring young mother married to a brutal military man, her glamorous but desperate career as a famed dancer and courtesan and her bleak existence in a Paris prison after her arrest as a spy for Germany during WWI. Murphy (Here They Come) sticks with the true ending to her subject's story, which was death by firing squad, and what makes the novel an unlikely achievement is how Murphy nurtures, before the shots are fired, a potent skepticism about the guilt of a woman whose name even today is synonymous with treachery. In its subdued way, this novel is an eloquent cri de coeur and a belated witness for the defense.' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"Murphy has fashioned a mesmerizing novel that creatively reimagines the life of one of the most notorious, and perhaps overvilified, women of all time." Booklist
"I found myself rushing through the final pages — to an ending that satisfies, opening out into a kaleidoscopic tribute, at once tender and wise." San Francisco Chronicle
"Zelle's death was merely the tragic end of a tragic life, and here Murphy, through exquisite and lush fiction, creates as fully-drawn a portrait of her as any biographer could have done." Boston Globe
"[A] profound and profoundly beautiful novel, one that forcefully renews literary fiction's claim to be a laboratory of the human spirit." Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Yannick Murphy is the author of Stories in Another Language, The Sea of Trees, and Here They Come. She lives in Reading, Vermont, with her husband and three children.
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