It’s been so long since I did a book review, and I am so glad to reviewing not one but two books today.
The Spy by Paulo Coelho
While I knew nothing about Mata Hari (sorry) before reading The Spy, I found her name and cover of the book intriguing. I found it in a bookstore at Köln airport as I was browsing through to fill two hours of waiting.
Paulo Coelho brings to life one of history’s most enigmatic women: Mata Hari. The first chapter recounts her execution, where she is shot to death by a firing squad, as she blows them a kiss seductively.
Mata Hari was born into privilege, until her father lost it all when she was only 13. She was unwillingly pulled into a broken home and poverty. She’s then raped by her school’s headmaster. To escape this torture, she responds to an ad for marriage, and finds herself wedded shortly. Things take a turn for worse as she realises her mistake in marrying an abusive and infidel man. She’s in a far away land (Indonesia), and trapped. It’s only when one of her husband’s fellow officer’s wives shoots herself in the head that Mata Hari decides to change her fate. She travels back to Europe, becomes an exotic dancer, who also sleeps with men for money and favours. Her journey from penniless to prosperous is rather short, and even shorter is her route to facing a firing squad during World War 1.
The story starts on a high note. But more than once, despite being absolutely clueless about her life, I found it skipping details and depth. Matters of importance, like her children and early days in Paris, barely got a mention. It felt like an abridged version of a rich novel, and I would have preferred lengthy over loosely connected.
Despite the flaws and Coelho’s insistence on romanticising Mata Hari’s struggles with metaphors, there is a story that reaches out and stays with you. Of men in power and women with ambitions. I am glad I read it.
An Unsuitable Boy by Karan Johar
You can love him or hate him, but you can’t ignore him. Karan Johar’s boisterous personality is just the kind of masala you need in your life every now and then. I was looking forward to his autobiography from the time that it was announced, and then N got me a copy from his last trip to Pakistan.
Karan takes the reader through his life, starting from his childhood. He talks extensively about his father, his childhood, Dharma Productions and his Bollywood debut. Then there are accounts of some of his biggest films, and you tag along to backstage and behind the camera. He insists on not talking about his sex life but who are we kidding? It’s Karan Johar and he loves talking about it (Koffee with Karan is a broadcasted proof of his obsession with it). He has dedicated an entire chapter to his (lack of) personal life. Then there is a love letter to Sharukh Khan, hate mail for Kajol and praise for Kangna Ranaut – now that I did not see coming.
It’s an entertaining read, which becomes a tad bit boring every now and then when he repeats himself. At length. He’s unapologetic. He’s insecure. He’s hardworking. His take on love is rather grim, but you appreciate the candidness. I wish it had a little more humour and sass though. All in all, you realise how our lives are not very different from one another. There is love and hate, disappointments and achievements, success and failure, fallouts and lifelong friendships…and he has managed to put it all together wonderfully.