Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Mata Hari Obsession

The Last Days of Mata Hari - a Novel by Giuseppe Scaraffia (2015, in Italian)

One of the characteristics of Mata Hari is that, a hundred years after her death, she can become an obsession. More than one writer fell under her spell and one of them is Giuseppe Scaraffia, author of this "The Last Days of Mata Hari" - published in Italy in 2015.

For a writer, being obsessed with the subject one writes about means the obsessive (indeed) search for all the details about it. When it is a historical subject, you do that combing all the possible sources and putting together all the details. There is a risk in this attitude - it is what Voltaire said, "the art of boredom consists in telling everything"

This is clearly a risk that Scaraffia faced with this book: an incredibly detailed report on what the famous people of a century ago were doing while Mata Hari was marching toward the firing squad. I have to confess that, at the beginning, I felt I was reading something akin to a phone book. A long list of names, Marinetti, Hemingway, Lawrence, Colette, and so on. Every name a few pages. How can you even dream of putting together a novel in this way?

But no, the book is a little steep at the beginning but, eventually, it works as a consistent narrative. And it works very well. It gives you a vision of the world as it was at the time of Mata Hari's death, a difficult, dark, and under many respect hopeless world. A world which, unfortunately, still lives in our age, although in a somewhat different form.

Then, the best thing in the book is how a consistent portrait of Mata Hari comes up. She is believable, strong, sensual, determined - exactly the way we can imagine she was. Unique, as someone said "we couldn't get another one like her, not even if we could clone her." And that's the way she is described in this book.

All writing is, eventually, an act of love toward what one writes about. And this book is one more act of love toward Mata Hari, whom we keep remembering still today.

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