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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Signed, Mata Hari by Yannick Murphy is a complex, brilliant, fascinating book; John Lithgow's Poets’ Corner would make a fine gift for any teenager or poetry-loving adult.

And Consider This
Best Choices from the People's Pharmacy by Joe and Terry Graedon is a collection of common sense and effective self-care remedies covering hundreds of common medical conditions



by Yannick Murphy, © 2007

Published by Little, Brown & Co.; Hardback, 278 pp

Yannick Murphy is a writer’s writer, recipient of many prizes and fellowships and author of three former books for adults, plus a children’s book with the delicious title of Ahwoooooooo!

Signed, Mata Hari, Ms. Murphy’s latest offering, is a pastiche of stories, letters, and reminiscences written in the voice of the famous exotic dancer who was tried and executed as a spy at the end of World War I.

The rich use of language in this little book is only one reason to enjoy the read, but rich and evocative that language is.

Margarethe Zelle, Mata Hari’s real name, is presented to us as a fascinating character who may or may not be guilty as charged. Born in the Netherlands, Zelle was orphaned as a teenager. Following a few misadventures, she answered a newspaper ad placed by an Army Captain stationed in the Indies, who sought a wife.

Her husband took her with him when he returned to Indonesia. Margarethe found that she had more in common with the local people than with the Army wives, and before long she was speaking Malay and wearing saris. Her marriage to the controlling MacLeod soon became abusive. She bore him two children of whom he was incredibly possessive, turning them against their mother whenever possible. The eldest, a boy, died young, poisoned by one of the servants. His sister, who had eaten less of the poison, became very ill, but recovered.

Eventually, MacLeod acquiesced to Margarethe’s request to return to Holland, only to abandon her, taking her beloved daughter, Non, with him. Margarethe, by then using the name Mata Hari, was destitute, and turned to performing, first as an artist’s model, then as a circus rider, and finally as a dancer, using the exotic movements and dress of her Indonesian friends. She became a sensation and a wealthy woman, but despite her efforts, was never able to reunite with her daughter.

This book is written in snippets, some chapters no more than a few paragraphs of words addressed to her captor as she sat in her prison cell. She steadfastly denies having been a spy, although there is room left for doubt. Her sly wit and bravado even in the face of a possible death sentence render her both charming and a bit frightening, a complex, brilliant, fascinating woman. Or maybe this is just a complex, brilliant, fascinating book. Either way, it’s well worth the read.



Page Two of Reviews>>

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©2007 Julia Sneden for

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