The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff set in 1919 Paris just after WWI, the war to end all wars. Margot Rosenthal and her father straddle the line between German and Jew, and the atmosphere after the war has greatly changed how German and Jew alike are seen by the rest of Europe and even at home. Jenoff carefully crafts a set of characters who are genuine in emotion and struggle, but also who remain a bit mysterious even to one another until the end of the novel.
Margot has lived her life in relative protection by her father after the death of her mother, but as she and her father experience Paris for the first time after the war, she must face the truth of events that once seemed so far away. Her impending marriage to Stefan, a childhood boy from the neighborhood wounded during the war, and her father’s precarious role as a precursor to the German delegation to the peace conference that will decide the fate of Germany and so many others.
“We are the defeated, a vanquished people, and in the French capital we loved before the war, we are now regarded as the enemy. In England, it had been bad enough — though Papa’s academic status prevented him from being interned like so many German men, we were outsiders, eyes suspiciously at the university. I could not wear the war ribbon as the smug British girls did when their fiances were off fighting because mine was for the wrong side.” (page 16 ARC)
Boredom pushes Margot to seek out things to occupy her time, and when she does, her life takes on a new direction and excitement. Her new friend, Krysia Smok, introduces her to the artistic side of Paris outside the stuffy parties of academics and politicians that she’s accustomed to, and Margot relishes the freedom. With this freedom, she finds that her life back in Oxford and even at home in Berlin was stifled and cloistered, with her father ensuring she learned enough to be free, without actually allowing her to free herself from the confines of societal expectations and gender roles. Without a mother to guide her, Margot is beholden to the tight, protective bubble her father has crafted, until Krysia pricks it with a pin, enabling her to find her freedom.
“She begins to walk up the hill. At the top of the ridge, the terrain that had appeared endless breaks suddenly. The trenches. The long tube of hollowed out earth, much deeper and wider than I’d imagined, a kind of subterranean city where the men had lived and died, rats in a maze. The smell of peat and earth and human waste wafts upward. About fifty meters to our right, the trench is bisected abruptly by a great crater, maybe ninety feet in diameter. Like the spot where Stefan had nearly died, only so much worse in reality.” (Page 174 ARC)
However, even though the war has changed certain expectations and enabled women to express their views and be more free, the realities of war always hover in the background, threatening this new perspective. Jenoff infuses her novel with a great many layers from the characters who grow into new people to those who struggle to remain who they are even after the world has changed around them. There are spies and espionage and there are plans to save Germany from the heavy hand of “justice,” but more importantly, there are everyday people struggling for their ideals and their hopes.
The Ambassador’s Daughter by Pam Jenoff is an emotional look at life after the war for both the victors and the enemy, but it also is a historical look at how German culture changed amidst the political machinations of various ideologies. Margot is a strong young woman, but like many after the war struggles to find her true path as she’s pulled by the familiarity of the past and the adventure the future could hold.
***If you’re interested in The Ambassador’s Daughter, come back tomorrow for an interview and giveaway.***
About the Author:
Pam Jenoff was born in Maryland and raised outside Philadelphia. She attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Cambridge University in England. Upon receiving her master’s in history from Cambridge, she accepted an appointment as Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. The position provided a unique opportunity to witness and participate in operations at the most senior levels of government, including helping the families of the Pan Am Flight 103 victims secure their memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, observing recovery efforts at the site of the Oklahoma City bombing and attending ceremonies to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II at sites such as Bastogne and Corregidor.