THE RED DANCER: The Life and Times of Mata Hari

Richard Skinner, Author . Ecco $23.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-621366-8

The life of WWI spy Mata Hari is examined from the perspective of the historical figures who knew her in this intriguing first novel by a British journalist. Beginning in 1895, when opportunistic Margaretta (Gerda) Zelle of the Hague married Rudolph MacLeod, a captain in the Dutch army, and went with him to Indonesia, Skinner chronicles the rise of a femme fatale who eventually dined with royalty, had her portrait painted by master artists and passed herself off as an exotic dancer before engaging in a career of espionage. The novel is written in a series of linked chapters, alternately narrated by the protagonist herself, her disenchanted husband (who tells about Gerda's chronic infidelity, the death of their young son and the breakup of their marriage), one of her maids and an omniscient narrator. Ever resourceful, Gerda returns to Europe and reinvents herself as an "Oriental dancer," engaging in liaisons with military and public figures and finally being recruited by the German espionage service. She is killed by a French firing squad in Paris in 1917. Skinner's research is assiduous, encompassing many aspects of fin de siècle European and Asian life. He incorporates in-depth explanations of Javanese musical instruments (which Mata Hari integrated into her art) and such topics as the origins of Cubism, the process of "dowsing" and the 1903 assassination of the king and queen of Serbia. Because Skinner chooses not to put himself inside his protagonist's head and maintains a dispassionate tone throughout, the tale is cool and distancing, but perhaps the legendary courtesan should remain an enigma. (Mar. 14)

Reviewed on: 02/04/2002
Release date: 03/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 231 pages - 978-0-571-20934-7
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-0-06-093779-9
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