“Paris, 1917. The notorious dancer Mata Hari sits in a cold cell awaiting freedom…or death. Alone and despondent, Mata Hari is as confused as the rest of the world about the charges she’s been arrested on: treason leading to the deaths of thousands of French soldiers.
As Mata Hari waits for her fate to be decided, she relays the story of her life to a reporter who is allowed to visit her in prison. Beginning with her carefree childhood, Mata Hari recounts her father’s cruel abandonment of her family as well her calamitous marriage to a military officer. Taken to the island of Java, Mata Hari refuses to be ruled by her abusive husband and instead learns to dance, paving the way to her stardom as Europe’s most infamous dancer.
From Indian temples and Parisian theatres to German barracks in war-torn Europe, international bestselling author Michelle Moran who ‘expertly balances fact and fiction’ (Associated Press) brings to vibrant life the famed world of Mata Hari: dancer, courtesan, and possibly, spy.”
My Thoughts: At the turn of the century, Mata Hari made a splash across Europe with her risque dancing and courtesan lifestyle. However, it was her death which caused the biggest headlines and earned her place in history as one of the most notorious women of the twentieth century. Mata Hari’s Last Dance explores her rise and fall.
Unfortunately, while Ms. Moran’s intent was to show how Mata Hari was a victim of politics and war, she instead presents an uneven portrait of her, vacillating between confidence and naivete. In fact, the real hero of the story is her long-time friend and lawyer, who sets her up and keeps her out of trouble until she chose to part ways with him towards the end. In fact, that is what happens throughout most of the novel. Mata Hari does what she does best, while her lawyer protects her and keeps bringing her business.
Theirs is an interesting partnership and one of the highlights of the novel. Yet, the partnership does not make the story. In the end, the story is about her rise and fall, and while her rise is spectacular, her fall is just downright odd. This is where the unevenness in the presentation of her personality becomes obvious and uncomfortable. That someone who made her fortune sleeping her way through military men and the top leaders across the continent would be that naive about military and political machinations does not sit right.
Mati Hari is one of those names that evokes seduction, mystery, and treason. In Mata Hari’s Last Dance, Ms. Moran peels back the mystery to show the truth behind her persona. As is typical with Ms. Moran’s novels, she uses detailed research to bring to her heroine back to life. However, in a rare misstep, she fails to make her heroine interesting. The story meanders across Mata Hari’s life from the moment she makes her entrance until the end, at which time the story finally gets interesting. Sadly, this is not the type of story one expects from Ms. Moran, even though it will not stop her fans from flocking to the novel. Personally, I say skip it and pick something else as a summer read.