Signed Mata Hari: Book summary and reviews of Signed Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy

Signed Mata Hari

A Novel

by Yannick Murphy

Signed Mata Hari
  • Readers' rating:

  • Published in USA  Nov 2007
    288 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In its subdued way, this novel is an eloquent cri de coeur and a belated witness for the defense." - Publishers Weekly.

"Does the literary world need another fictional tribute to Mata Hari? If it is penned by the inimitable Murphy (Here They Come, 2006), the answer is yes .... a mesmerizing novel that creatively reimagines the life of one of the most notorious, and perhaps overvilified, women of all time." - Booklist.

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Reader Reviews

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Nancy

Mata Hari
This book was a lovely surprise. I knew nothing of Mata Hari and while this is a fictionalized account of the infamous spy, I learned much about the depth of her character. The alternating chapters reveal accounts of her past and her imprisonment in France. She didn't just decide to become a spy. The evolution from Margarethe with a troubled childhood and marriage to the bold Mata Hari evokes the complexities of how individuals become who they are. While I may have thought of Mata Hari with disdain before reading this book, I now see her with great empathy and even feel a connection with her. This is a great read and I think women especially will enjoy it.

Rosemary

Signed, Mata Hari
At first I found the novel confusing until I started sorting out the characters. The author is very effective in switching from the past to the present and her writing style is delightful. By the end of the book you feel as if you have an insight into Mata Hari and wonder if different circumstances would have changed the fate of her life. The author also did an excellent job of tying in the beginning of the book with the ending (edited to remove plot spoiler).

Pamela

Signed, Mata Hari
I am very impressed with the author. From the beginning, I loved the lyrical language and the character that she was able to flesh out. I knew nothing about Mata Hari, which drew me to the book. With the short chapters, it made it easier for me to pick up and put down at this busy time of year. But I found myself not wanting to put it down at all. As she tells her stories, you become totally hypnotized by this woman. If you want to learn a little, be entertained and find out what lyrical really means, pick up this book!

Patricia

Signed Mata Hari
I thouroughly enjoyed this book. The 'short' James Patterson type chapters made for easy reading. Getting a glimpse into the life of Mata Hari makes one realize she is so much more than just a spy! The descriptions of Java, and the countries she traveled, gave me a clear visual of the colors, sounds, and feels of those lands.

Carole

Spy Stories
Murphy, in her lyrical language, short chapters, and changing points of view, spins multiple stories and introduces the reader to a fascinating array of characters -- foremost, the complex and complicated Mata Hari. I enjoyed the book and loved the mythical stories Mata Hari told and wrote to her children.

Shirley

Did She or Didn't She
This book raises the question of Mata Hari's guilt as a spy or a victim of circumstance. Yannick Murphy captures the essence of this woman from her early life with an abusive cold husband to the loss of her children and writes in a poetic fashion that makes you want to believe what Mata Hari tells us. The book richly introduces characters who make an imprint on Mata Hari's life and lead her away from the life she loved and into a sad desperate struggle for survival.

...10 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Yannick Murphy Author Biography

Yannick Murphy is the author of the novels Signed, Mata Hari; Here They Come; and The Sea of Trees, as well as two story collections and several children’s books. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and a Chesterfield Screenwriting Award.

Her work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She lives in Vermont with her veterinarian husband and their children.

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