ALSO BY PAULO COELHO
The Alchemist The Pilgrimage The Valkyries By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept The Fifth Mountain Veronika Decides to Die Warrior of the Light: A Manual Eleven Minutes The Zahir
The Devil and Miss Prym The Witch of Portobello Brida
The Winner Stands Alone Aleph
Manuscript Found in Accra Adultery
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Translation copyright (c) 2016 by Zoe Perry All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, and distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in Brazil as A Espia by Editora Paralela, a division of Editora Schwarcz S.A., Sao Paulo, in 2016. Copyright (c) 2016 by Paulo Coelho. This edition published by arrangement with Sant Jordi Asociados Agencia Literaria SLU, Barcelona, Spain.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.
Library of Congress Control Number: 201695146
ISBN 9781524732066 (hardcover) ISBN 9781524732073 (ebook) ISBN 9781524711085 (open market)
Ebook ISBN 9781524732073
This is a work of fiction although the general outline of Mata Hari's life is based on real events, and the author has attempted to reconstruct her life based on historical information. However, where Mata Hari or other real-life figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the entirely fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Stephanie Ross
Photographs of Mata Hari herein are courtesy of the Collection Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. Image of the letter on this page is courtesy of the National Archives, United Kingdom.
Also by Paulo Coelho
Author's Note and Acknowledgments
A Note About the Author
Reading Group Guide
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to You. Amen.
"When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.
"I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite."
Based on real events
PARIS, OCTOBER 15, 1917--ANTON FISHERMAN AND HENRY WALES, FOR THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICE
Shortly before 5 a.m., a party of eighteen men--most of them officers of the French army--climbed to the second floor of Saint-Lazare, the women's prison in Paris. Guided by a warder carrying a torch to light the lamps, they stopped in front of cell 12.
Nuns were charged with looking after the prison. Sister Leonide opened the door and asked that everyone wait outside as she entered the cell, struck a match against the wall, and lit the lamp inside. Then she called one of the other sisters to help.
With great affection and care, Sister Leonide draped her arm around the sleeping body. The woman struggled to waken, as though disinterested in anything. According to the nun's statement, when she finally awoke, it was as though she emerged from a peaceful slumber. She remained serene when she learned her appeal for clemency, made days earlier to the president of the republic, had been denied. It was impossible to decipher if she felt sadness or a sense of relief that everything was coming to an end.
On Sister Leonide's signal, Father Arbaux entered her cell along with Captain Bouchardon and her lawyer, Maitre Clunet. The prisoner handed her lawyer the long letter that she had spent the previous week writing, as well as two manila envelopes containing news clippings.
She drew on black stockings, which seemed grotesque under the circumstances, and stepped into a pair of high-heeled shoes adorned with silk laces. As she rose from the bed, she reached for the hook in the corner of her cell, where a floor-length fur coat hung, its sleeves and collar trimmed with the fur of another animal, possibly fox. She slipped it over the heavy silk kimono in which she had slept.
Her black hair was disheveled. She brushed it carefully, then secured it at the nape of her neck. She perched a felt hat on top of her head and tied it under her chin with a silk ribbon, so the wind would not blow it out of place when she stood in the clearing where she was to be led.
Slowly, she bent down to take a pair of black leather gloves. Then, nonchalantly, she turned to the newcomers and said in a calm voice:
"I am ready."
Everyone departed the Saint-Lazare prison cell and headed toward the automobile that waited, its engine running, to take them to the firing squad.
The car sped through the streets of the sleeping city on its way to the Caserne de Vincennes barracks. A fort had stood there once, before being destroyed by the Germans in 1870.
Twenty minutes later, the automobile stopped and its party descended. Mata Hari was the last to exit.
The soldiers were already lined up for the execution. Twelve Zouaves formed the firing squad. At the end of the group stood an officer, his sword drawn.
Flanked by two nuns, Father Arbaux spoke with the condemned woman until a French lieutenant approached and held out a white cloth to one of the sisters, saying:
"Blindfold her eyes, please."
"Must I wear that?" asked Mata Hari, as she looked at the cloth.
Maitre Clunet turned to the lieutenant questioningly.
"If Madame prefers not to, it is not mandatory," replied the lieutenant.
Mata Hari was neither bound nor blindfolded; she stood, gazing steadfastly at her executioners, as the priest, the nuns, and her lawyer stepped away.
The commander of the firing squad, who had been watching his men attentively to prevent them from examining their rifles--it is customary to always put a blank cartridge in one, so that everyone can claim not to have fired the deadly shot--seemed to relax. Soon the business would be over.
The twelve men took a rigid stance and placed their rifles at their shoulders.
Mata Hari did not move a muscle.
The officer stood where all the soldiers could see him and raised his sword.
The woman before them remained impassive, showing no fear.
The officer's sword dropped, slicing through the air in an arc.
The sun, now rising on the horizon, illuminated the flames and small puffs of smoke issuing from the rifles as a flurry of gunfire rang out with a bang. Immediately after this, the soldiers returned their rifles to the ground in a rhythmic motion.
For a fraction of a second, Mata Hari remained upright. She did not die the way you see in moving pictures after people are shot. She did not plunge forward or backward, and she did not throw her arms up or to the side. She collapsed onto herself, her head still up, her eyes still open. One of the soldiers fainted.
Then her knees buckled and her body fell to the right, legs doubled up beneath the fur coat. And there she lay, motionless, with her face turned toward the heavens.
A third officer drew his revolver from a holster strapped to his chest and, accompanied by a lieutenant, walked toward the motionless body.
Bending over, he placed the muzzle of the revolver against the spy's temple, taking care not to touch her skin. Then he pulled the trigger, and the bullet tore through her brain. He turned to all who were present and said in a solemn voice:
"Mata Hari is dead."
Dear Mr. Clunet,
I do not know what will happen at the end of this week. I have always been an optimistic woman, but time has left me bitter, alone, and sad.
If things turn out as I hope, you will never receive this letter. I'll have been pardoned. After all, I spent my life cultivating influential friends. I will hold on to the letter so that, one day, my only daughter might read it to find out who her mother was.
But if I am wrong, I have little hope that these pages, which have consumed my last week of life on Earth, will be kept. I have always been a realistic woman and I know that, once a case is settled, a lawyer will move on to the next one without a backward glance.
I can imagine what will happen after. You will be a very busy man, having gained notoriety defending a war criminal. You will have many people knocking at your door, begging for your services, for, even defeated, you attracted huge publicity. You will meet journalists interested to hear your version of events, you will dine in the city's most expensive restaurants, and you will be looked upon with respect and envy by your peers. You will know there was never any concrete evidence against me--only documents that had been tampered with--but you will never publicly admit that you allowed an innocent woman to die.
Innocent? Perhaps that is not the right word. I was never innocent, not since I first set foot in this city I love so dearly. I thought I could manipulate those who wanted state secrets. I thought the Germans, French, English, Spanish would never be able to resist me--and yet, in the end, I was the one manipulated. The crimes I did commit, I escaped, the greatest of which was being an emancipated and independent woman in a world ruled by men. I was convicted of espionage even though the only thing concrete I traded was the gossip from high-society salons.
Yes, I turned this gossip into "secrets," because I wanted money and power. But all those who accuse me now know I never revealed anything new.
It's a shame no one will know this. These envelopes will inevitably find their way to a dusty file cabinet, full of documents from other proceedings. Perhaps they will leave when your successor, or your successor's successor, decides to make room and throw out old cases.
By that time, my name will have been long forgotten. But I am not writing to be remembered. I am attempting to understand things myself. Why? How is it that a woman who for so many years got everything she wanted can be condemned to death for so little?
At this moment, I look back at my life and realize that memory is a river, one that always runs backward.
Memories are full of caprice, where images of things we've experienced are still capable of suffocating us through one small detail or insignificant sound. The smell of baking bread wafts up to my cell and reminds me of the days I walked freely in the cafes. This tears me apart more than my fear of death or the solitude in which I now find myself.
Memories bring with them a devil called melancholy--oh, cruel demon that I cannot escape. Hearing a prisoner singing, receiving a small handful of letters from admirers who were never among those who brought me roses and jasmine flowers, picturing a scene from some city I didn't appreciate at the time. Now it's all I have left of this or that country I visited.
The memories always win, and with them comes a demon that is even more terrifying than melancholy: remorse. It's my only companion in this cell, except when the sisters decide to come and chat. They do not speak about God, or condemn me for what society calls my "sins of the flesh." Generally, they say one or two words, and the memories spout from my mouth, as if I wanted to go back in time, plunging into this river that runs backward.
One of them asked me:
"If God gave you a second chance, would you do anything differently?"
I said yes, but really, I do not know. All I know is that my current heart is a ghost town, one populated by passions, enthusiasm, loneliness, shame, pride, betrayal, and sadness. I cannot disentangle myself from any of it, even when I feel sorry for myself and weep in silence.
I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this. I don't know if the future will remember me, but if it does, may it never see me as a victim, but as someone who moved forward with courage, fearlessly paying the price she had to pay.
On one of my trips to Vienna I met a gentleman who had become a roaring success in Austria among men and women alike. He was called Freud--I can't remember his first name--and people adored him because he had restored the possibility that we are all innocent. Our faults were actually those of our parents.
I try to see now where mine went wrong, but I cannot blame my family. Adam and Antje Zelle gave me everything money could buy. They owned a hat shop and invested in oil before people knew of its importance, which allowed me to attend a private school, study dance, take riding lessons. When people started to accuse me of being a "woman of easy virtue," my father wrote a book in my defense--something he should have never done. I was perfectly at ease with what I was doing, and his words only drew more attention to their accusations of prostitution and lying.
Yes, I was a prostitute--if by that you mean someone who receives favors and jewelry in exchange for affection and pleasure. Yes, I was a liar, one so compulsive and out of control that I often forgot what I'd said and had to expend great mental energy to cover my blunders.
I cannot blame my parents for anything, except perhaps for having given birth to me in the wrong town. Leeuwarden, a place most of my fellow Dutchmen will have never even heard of, is a town where absolutely nothing happens and every day is the same as the last. Early on, as a teenager, I learned that I was beautiful from the way my friends used to imitate me.
In 1889, my family's fortune changed--Adam went bankrupt and Antje fell ill, dying two years later. They did not want me to have to go through what they went through, and sent me away to school in another city, Leiden, firm in their objective that I have the finest education. There I trained to become a kindergarten teacher while I awaited the arrival of a husband who would take charge of me. On the day of my departure, my mother called me over and gave me a packet of seeds:
"Take this with you, Margaretha."
Margaretha--Margaretha Zelle--was my name, and I detested it. Countless girls had been given the name Margaretha because of a famous and well-respected actress.
I asked what the seeds were for.
"They're tulip seeds, the symbol of our country. But, more than that, they represent a truth you must learn. These seeds will always be tulips, even if at the moment you cannot tell them apart from other flowers. They will never turn into roses or sunflowers, no matter how much they might desire to. And if they try to deny their own existence, they will live life bitter and die.
"So you must learn to follow your destiny, whatever it may be, with joy. As flowers grow, they show off their beauty and are appreciated by all; then, after they die, they leave their seeds so that others may continue God's work."
She placed the packet of seeds in a small bag that I had watched her stitch carefully for days despite her illness.
"Flowers teach us that nothing is permanent: not their beauty, not even the fact that they will inevitably wilt, because they will still give new seeds. Remember this when you feel joy, pain, or sadness. Everything passes, grows old, dies, and is reborn."
How many storms must I weather before I understand this? At the time, her words sounded hollow; I was eager to leave that suffocating town, with its identical days and nights. And yet today, as I write this, I understand that my mother was also talking about herself.
"Even the tallest trees are able to grow from tiny seeds like these. Remember this, and try not to rush time."
She gave me a kiss goodbye, and my father took me to the t
rain station. We barely spoke on our way there.
All the men I've known have given me joy, jewelry, or a place in society, and I've never regretted knowing them--all except the first, the school principal, who raped me when I was sixteen.
He called me into his office, locked the door, then placed his hand between my legs and began to masturbate. At first I tried to escape, saying, gently, that this wasn't the time or place. But he said nothing. He pushed aside some papers on his desk, laid me on my stomach, and penetrated me all in one go, as if he were scared that someone might enter the room and see us.
My mother had taught me, in a conversation laden with metaphors, that "intimacy" with a man should take place only when there is love, and when that love is for life. I left his office confused and frightened, determined not to tell anyone what had happened, until another girl brought it up when we were talking in a group. From what I could tell, it had already happened to two of them, but to whom could we complain? We risked being expelled from school and sent back home, unable to explain the reason. So we were forced to keep quiet. My solace was knowing I wasn't the only one. Later, when I became famous in Paris for my dance performances, these girls told others and, before long, all of Leiden knew what had happened. The principal had already retired, and no one dared confront him. Quite the opposite! Some even envied him for having been the beau of the great diva of the time.
From that experience, I began to associate sex with something mechanical, something that had nothing to do with love.
Leiden was even worse than Leeuwarden; there was the famous training school for kindergarten teachers, and a bunch of people who had nothing better to do than mind other people's business. One day, out of boredom, I began reading the classified ads in the newspaper of a neighboring town. And there it was: Rudolf MacLeod, an officer in the Dutch army of Scottish descent, currently stationed in Indonesia, seeks young bride to get married and live abroad.
There was my salvation! Officer. Indonesia. Strange seas and exotic worlds. Enough of conservative, Calvinist Holland, full of prejudice and boredom. I answered the ad, enclosing the best and most sensual picture I had. Little did I know that the ad had been placed as a joke by one of the captain's friends. My letter would be the last of sixteen to arrive.