The thought of spies often conjures images of characters glamorized by Hollywood or popular fiction. Perhaps this is the case for one of the most well-known female spies in history. It was 100 ago today, in 1917, that Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, better known as Mata Hari, was executed by a firing squad in France after being accused of treason and espionage.
Historical fiction is an opportunity to be exposed to a slice of history that after reading, you may feel an interest to learn more. A recent work about Mata Hari is “The Spy” by Paulo Coelho, the author of the acclaimed novel “The Alchemist.” It is a quick read, based on her life, and told through a letter penned to her daughter during the week leading up to her execution.
If, after reading “The Spy,” you want to learn more about Mata Hari, check out “Women Wartime Spies,” by historian Ann Kramer. Details are shared about much lesser-known women who gathered and transmitted important military information during World War I and World War II including their training and fearless missions. Many were captured, tortured and even executed. Some were able to escape and eventually return home, however since they were involved in such secretive occupations, their families never knew the type of dangerous work they performed.
“The Alice Network,” by Kate Quinn, is a current bestseller that is full of suspense. Told through two separate stories, parallel timelines take place from 1915 during World War I to 1947 and the aftermath of World War II. Charlie St. Clair, a young American college student, unmarried and pregnant, has been sent to Europe by her family to take care of her “little problem.” Eve Gardiner, a hard-drinking, loud-mouthed former spy, worked in the real-life Alice Network during World War I. The lives of these two courageous women intertwine when they meet in 1947 with both experiencing transformations as they work together to discover what became of Charlie’s beloved cousin, Rose, and other missing persons from the past.
Your local Manatee County Library has these books about female spies and many others including “Spymistress: The True Story of the Greatest Female Secret Agent of World War II” by William Stevenson, “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone, and “Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II” by Liza Mundy.
Trudy Hill Bell is the youth services librarian at the Island Branch Library on Holmes Beach. You may also access the library via the Internet: www.mymanatee.org/library.