The Spy

by Paulo Coelho

Read time: about 5 minutes

Paulo Coelho is best known for his work ‘Alchemist’ where he stylistically infuses fable with philosophy to give out a wonderful piece of literature. But it was after reading ‘Adultery’ that I established my love for his writing. ‘The Spy’ came in at the right moment. The new found love for ‘historical fiction and Paulo Coelho’ seemed like the best treat.

Unfortunately, it was one of those times when you get over excited and the bubble bursts eventually. ‘The Spy’ is the reason people say ‘stick to what you do best’.

Cover: The Spy

Cover page

On the cover page of copy in market, is a side portrait of the Mata Hari - the lead character. I personally did not like the cover page. A side portrait is a cliché. The gravity of the history is not presented through the cover at all. Not my favorite one in the Paulo Coelho’s collection.


The book is about a well known so-called spy during the first world war. The name is Mata Hari. She is a woman born during the wrong time. Which always makes you think ‘Is there ever a good time for women to be born?’ Mata Hari is a woman of expensive tastes and keeps the company of important men. She is fearless in the beginning which only portrays her naivety towards the end. The character grows from being brave to vain to naïve and outright stupid towards the end. The evolution is not something you expect of a spy if she was even one.

I did not like the character as portrayed by the author. But I intend to read more about the so-called spy because, beneath all the façade, she looks like a smart and important woman in the history.


The book begins with a scene in the prison, where Mata Hari is kept. She is indifferent. Mata Hari decides to write a letter to her lawyer. It is meant to be an evidence in the court or a biography if she is convicted or just a memoir for her daughter. Mata Hari is bitter towards the lawyer for not being able to save her. She describes her entire life in the letter. Which is followed by a letter from the lawyer justifying the unfortunate conviction of Mata Hari.

There is always an end conclusion to a novel, a feeling that you can describe after finishing the book. After reading this one I could not help but think ‘What was the point of the story?’ The entire content looked quite directionless, not the sly flow ‘Alchemist’ possessed.

The letter format is slightly uncomfortable to read too.


The language is not only simple, it’s colloquial. It is lacking the trademark Paulo Coelho narration. It also failed to portray the depth of the story of Mata Hari, not justifying her character at all.

Good points

The concept is quite interesting. The word combination of ‘spy’, ‘world war’ and historical fiction form a very interesting match.

Bad points

Everything else. The cover page fails to connect the reader with the gravity of the book. The character is somehow lost amongst the pages. The transition is disappointing. The content fails to hold a grip on the reader. It keeps slipping completely vanishing towards the end. The language is colloquial. Someone reading a Paulo Coelho is bound to expect a better writing.


It was a complete waste of three hours.

Whom do I recommend this to

Here is when I say historical fiction lovers. But I will just say ‘no one’ and end at that.

Quotable quotes

At this moment, I look back at my life and realize that memory is a river, one that always runs backward.

I am a woman who was born at the wrong time and nothing can be done to fix this.

“Flowers teach us that nothing is permanent: not their beauty, not even the fact that they will inevitably wilt, because they will still give new seeds. Remember this when you feel joy, pain, or sadness. Everything passes, grows old, does, and is reborn.”

There’s the real secret: children’s drawings. What you’re seeing may seem childish, but it represents what’s most important in art.

We all know I won’t be killed because of this stupid allegation of espionage, but because I decided to be who I always dreamed.

It’s because I dream of being accepted and respected, though I don’t owe anything to anyone. Why do I need that? I waste my time on worries, regrets, and darkness- a darkness that only enslaves me, chaining me to a rock where I’m served up as food for birds of prey, a rock that I can no longer leave.

I was being healed. I understood why Catholics confess, even though they must know priests share the same sins, or worse. It did not matter who was listening; what mattered was leaving the wound open for the sun to purify and the rainwater to wash.

…injustice of which you were victim for the sin of being a woman, for the greater sin of being free, for the immense sin of stripping in public, for the dangerous sin of getting involved with men whose reputation needed to be maintained at any cost.

I received this book in exchange for a review. The opinion is my own, completely uninfluenced.

Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH