One forgotten woman is transformed into a stunning portrait of the twentieth century — powerful, passionate and inspired. Based on copious research, author Alexandra LaPierre illuminates the true story of Mata Hari of Russia, an alluring aristocrat who fought for survival during the Bolshevik Revolution, through the character Moura in The Woman of a Thousand Names (Atria Books).

Born into the upper class, Moura’s world is marked by “the silence of grand spaces … Ladies in sable, pillbox hats, and dresses with bustles. Little girls in short white dresses, immaculate muffs at their torsos.” Doted on by her nanny, Moura is raised in a progressive yet permissive household, encouraged to “look at everything, listen to everything. But she would have to do all this alone! Neither [of her parents] let her ask any questions.” As a willful and self-reliant young woman, Moura enters into marriage with a formal Estonian who quickly neglects her. Soon, she sees her station in life through a more critical lens: “The arrogance, stupidity and blindness of some upper-society people” appalls her. This objectivity proves an asset, allowing her to act quickly and without sentimentality when World War I breaks out. Moura uses her “intellectual capabilities … charm and … good humor” to secure a job working for the British embassy. As the only person there who belongs to the Russian oligarchy, she plays up her foreignness, the sense of her as a “Russian mystery … the Slavic soul … full of violence and sensuality.” Harnessing her natural capabilities — including her fluency in several languages and her wit — she becomes a hallmark of this story moving forward.

Moura and her family are deprived of their wealth and stature. She fears “firing squads for the adults. Prisons and orphanages for the children.” At the same time, she falls in love with an English cohort, Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart, a man whom she senses “embodie[s] her fate.” Their affair juxtaposes sensual pleasures against the backdrop of the terrors of war. When Lockhart absconds to Sweden, Moura books multiple prison sentences and the harassment of the secret police who believe she’s a spy, waiting for Lockhart to furnish a safe passage for her. She endures as thousands of her compatriots are tortured and dispatched by the Bolsheviks; there are so many bodies that soldiers soon feed them to the animals in the Petrograd zoo. But as Lockhart observes, Maura represents “the soul of eternal Russia, the one who adapts and survives.” Indeed, chameleon-like, Moura transmutes herself on command, making her a fascinating and ultra-complex character. A modern proto-feminist negotiating the patriarchy, she uses her wiles without losing herself, forever maneuvering. 

At over six hundred pages, her story spans decades, during which time Moura becomes a muse to the famed Russian novelist Gorky and wins over H.G. Wells. She survives two wars and outlasts the grinding dehumanization of a surveillance state, eventually emerging as a celebrated intellectual. Using lyrical language, LaPierre deftly elucidates these events and breaks down the complexities of Moura’s society. Brimming with breathtaking plot twists, The Woman of a Thousand Names is an inspiring tale of resilience and courage that will be embraced by fans of epic historical fiction.

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French by birth, yet educated in the United States, Alexandra Lapierre is a graduate of the Sorbonne and the University of Southern California. Novelist and biographer, she is the author of many bestsellers translated worldwide. She was elected “Donna per la Cultura,” by the City of Rome, Italy, and awarded the prestigious “Grand Prix des Lectrices de ELLE” for her biography on the American pioneer Fanny Stevenson, wife of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. Her book on the first Italian woman painter from the Renaissance, Artemisia Gentileschi, was voted “Book of the Week” by the British BBC and “Best Book on the Seventeenth Century” by the Sorbonne University. It was published by Grove Atlantic in the United States and by Chatto and Windus in Great Britain.

Alexandra Lapierre is based in Paris, but lives around the world, where her books take her.