Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Ambassador's Daughter by Pam Jenoff

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 6, 2013

Paris, 1919. The world's leaders have gathered to rebuild from the ashes of the Great War. But for one woman, the City of Light harbors dark secrets and dangerous liaisons, for which many could pay dearly. Brought to the peace conference by her father, a German diplomat, Margot Rosenthal initially resents being trapped in the congested French capital, where she is still looked upon as the enemy. But as she contemplates returning to Berlin and a life with Stefan, the wounded fiancé she hardly knows anymore, she decides that being in Paris is not so bad after all. Bored and torn between duty and the desire to be free, Margot strikes up unlikely alliances: with Krysia, an accomplished musician with radical acquaintances and a secret to protect; and with Georg, the handsome, damaged naval officer who gives Margot a job—and also a reason to question everything she thought she knew about where her true loyalties should lie. Against the backdrop of one of the most significant events of the century, a delicate web of lies obscures the line between the casualties of war and of the heart, making trust a luxury that no one can afford.

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The big four at the Paris Peace Conference
I discovered the expected publication of The Ambassador's Daughter shortly after reading Pam Jenoff's The Things We Cherished. The latter novel was so affecting I couldn't wait to get my hands on her next piece. Five months later I was ecstatic to get a copy from Netgalley eagerly dove in. 

The Ambassador's Daughter isn't your average war story. It takes place directly after World War I and focuses largely on human emotions rather than the political changes taking place in Europe as the continent begins to recover. It is a surprising approach, but one I found I greatly enjoyed despite my predilection for front line drama. 

One of the most striking concepts in the book is Jenoff's approach to military relationships. Margot's whirlwind engagement to Stefan, her difficulty accepting his condition after he returns from the front, her torn loyalties as she comes to realize her affection for Georg, it isn't pretty. It is complicated and messy and after watching it from base for a few years, I can say it is an unfortunate reality for many young couples touched by war. Margot's situation is not a product of the period, it is the nature of the beast, as true in 1919 as it is in 2013. I never experienced it firsthand though I have friends who did, but even so, seeing the complicated emotions of a woman 'married to the military' so boldly depicted in fiction was truly moving. 

Of course, Jenoff doesn't limit herself to Margot's difficult love life. She also explores the dynamic between parent and child, questions of loyalty and honor, the prejudice and negativity shown to Germans and the convoluted allegiances of German Jews, a population who faced discrimination on two fronts after the close of the first world war. For me, this type of multi-concept storytelling is part of what makes Jenoff's books so interesting. There is always something going on, even when the plot slows the reader has plenty of material to keep them engaged.

Not to say the book is without issue. Margot is very naive and often uncertain which made the first person narrative difficult for me. It isn't too bad though I can't help feeling I might have liked the piece more if I'd been allowed out of her head from time to time.

Written as a prequel to the Kommandant's Girl there are naturally loose ends, but overall a great read. Recommended to fans of Barbed Wire and Roses. 

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I feel again in that moment the gulfs of anger and hate that the war has sown, even in educated and worldly people such as she, pain too fresh for an armistice paper and a few months' passage if time to heal.
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3 comments:

Marg said...

I had this on my TBR list and was planning to read this...but then you said for fans of Barbed Wire and Roses - loved that book! Might try and steal a couple of hours in the next week to read this one!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

I read the Diplomat's Wife and enjoyed it. I need to check this one out.
2 Kids and Tired Books

The Flashlight Reader said...

I need to go back and read the Diplomat's Wife. Haven't read it in years.