As big fans of the historical fiction genre, we share with you an excerpt from author Pam Jenoff’s latest novel, The Ambassador’s Daughter, along with WYSK contributor Willa Rubin’s thoughts on the book.
“Behind the horses, a procession of open carriages appears. The first bears a man in a long coat and top hat with a woman beside him. Though it is too far away for me to see, I can tell by the whoops that he is President Wilson. As the carriage draws closer and stops in front of the hotel, I recognize Wilson from the photos.
He waves to the crowd as he climbs down. But his bespectacled face is solemn, as if seeing for the first time the hopes of so many that hang on his promises.”
The Ambassador’s Daughter takes place in and around Paris in 1919 during the negotiations leading up to the Treaty of Versailles, the final conclusion to World War I. We follow the main character, Margot Rosenthal, who is German, through the struggles she encounters during and after the war, reiterating the fact that in war, all sides, citizens and soldiers alike, suffer, regardless of political allegiances.
Jenoff’s integration of the common fears Germans had regarding the future of their state and Western attitudes towards Germans during these pivotal negotiations, exposes the weaknesses of those who were seen as the assailants on Europe during this time. Jenoff also accentuated some of the darker sides of these talks, bringing to light much of the spying and other intelligence gathering, and occasional assaults against diplomats, which is often overlooked when studying history. Even after a ceasefire and surrenders, The Ambassador’s Daughter shows that tensions between both sides were still quite rampant, and I found the portrayal of these tensions very engaging.
With that said, none of the characters in the book were of particular interest to me, nor did they feel real. The bland dialogue and their predictable actions, even as the plot thickened, detracted from what could have been a very gripping story. I found the historical parts of the book incredibly intriguing, but the characters were so lacking that this might as well have been two separate stories. I kept on reading because of the creativity of the historical aspects throughout, but I had no interest or connection to the interpersonal relationships.
This may not be a book for the WYSK “GoodReads” list, but if you love historical fiction, it may be worth checking out – just beware of the dull characters in what is otherwise an interesting perspective.
PAM JENOFF is the author of several novels, including The Kommandant’s Girl, which received widespread acclaim, earned her a nomination for the Quill Awards and became an international bestseller. She previously served as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. State Department in Europe, as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army at the Pentagon and as a practicing attorney at a large firm and in-house. She received her juris doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, her masters degree in history from Cambridge University and her bachelors degree in international affairs from The George Washington University. Pam Jenoff lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.