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Set against the dramatically imagined backdrop of Europe on the brink of the Great War, The Red Dancer re-creates the life of Mata Hari, last century's most romantic, enigmatic, tragic spy.
In 1895, Margaretha Zelle, a destitute young woman from The Hague, answers a personal ad placed by a Dutch army captain twice her age seeking a wife. After a speedy marriage, she departs with him for a posting in Indonesia. Marred by violence, infidelity, bitter feuding, and their son's disturbing death, the marriage collapses. Returning to Europe, Margaretha travels to Paris, where, inspired by the exotic enchantment of Eastern dance, she reinvents herself as the erotic dancer Mata Hari ("Eye of the Dawn"), the likes of which the Continent has never seen. Just as the major European powers lurch toward explosive conflict, Mata Hari's reputation as a dancer and courtesan starts to attract the attention of powerful admirers from Madrid to Vienna, from Berlin to St. Petersburg. Entrapped, Mata Hari is drawn into a military intrigue that will affect the course of World War I.
Narrated by historical figures whose lives intersected with Mata Hari's -- from her husband to her executioner -- The Red Dancer explores the mystery and downfall of a woman at the center of a notorious espionage scandal that has inspired historians and artists for generations. Ranging from exotic Indonesia to the seedy dance halls of Paris, it brilliantly depicts the delicious and eerie decadence of fin de sicle Europe and the onset of a global conflict that ended an era.
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Richard Skinner is a journalist and reviewer for the Financial Times, The Guardian, and The Sunday Times. He is 33 and lives in London.From Publishers Weekly:
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 siŠcle 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.
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