The Ambassador’s Daughter
I almost feel that I need to re-read portions of this book because of the length of time it took to finish reading it, but once was enough. The heroine played a big part in the tediousness of the book with her vacillation and indecisiveness, but I also found the story drawn out and rambling overall.
Per the author’s study guide, this book is a prequel to the author’s two other books, The Kommandant’s Girl and The Diplomat’s Wife. I haven’t read either of those – in fact this is the first book that I have read by Ms. Jenoff.
Four years ago, at age sixteen, Margot Rosenthal saw her Jewish fiancé, Stefan, off at the train station as he joined Germany’s war effort. Stefan was reported killed, and to Margot’s shame she felt relief. She loved him as friend, but never felt passion for him. But miraculously he is alive. Arriving to meet his train, she almost bypasses the hunched over, bald, elderly skeletal man, only stopping to help the nurse push the stuck wheel chair. She is shocked to discover that it is Stefan. Feeling trapped, how can she tell him that she doesn’t love him now?
Since Stefan must regain his health and strength, Margot rejoins her father. They both lived abroad in England for most of the war, as her father, Friedrich, an academic, spent time at Oxford. But her Uncle Walter, her mother’s brother, feels it important that Germany have a voice at the peace conference, and arranges for her father to attend early before the Germans are actually summoned. Margot’s father is not happy about being put in the spotlight.
At loose ends and lonely, Margot befriends another woman, Krysia, who is also traveling with her diplomat father. It is while in a group of Krysia‘s friends that Margot lets slip some classified information that her father told her in confidence. An individual from that group attempts an assassination and her father fears that he is going to blamed for the leak. Margot struggles with her conscience, wanting to tell her father what she has done, but never gathers up the courage.
When the German delegation arrives, Margot offers her services as a translator to Georg Richwalder, one of the military attachés. Soon Margot realizes that her mistake has opened her up for blackmail. She has been watched, and the individual knows that she has access to both her father’s sensitive information and Georg’s.
Now she is torn. How can she not protect her father? But how can she betray Georg – a man she has come to care for deeply? But there can be no future for them, because there is more between her and Stefan than just an engagement.
It is not that I didn’t appreciate the dilemma that Margot faced. However, her naïvete causes her to continue to make mistake after mistake. And with so many lies between her and Georg it seems almost impossible for them to have a happily ever after. I know that I would find it difficult to place my trust in someone that hid so much from me.
The story is told from Margot’s point of view, and the story meanders back and forth between her attraction to Georg, her guilt about deceiving him, her apprehension about marrying Stefan, her guilt that she almost wishes that he died, her role in the leak of information and her guilt about that. Plus she wishes that she could travel, but feels guilty at the thought of leaving her father. Honestly it was too much guilt for me. Added into the mix is a subplot about her father and his unique arrangement with her mother’s sister and a couple of surprise twists that I felt came out of the blue. With so many different plot devices, the story just lacked focus.
I am not an expert in this time period, so I don’t know how accurate the political machinations are. What I can say is that they are not very riveting. And the time period didn’t really come alive for me either. There is mention of women’s right to vote, and of women deferring to their fathers, but otherwise the mores seem quite modern. Several times Margot is alone with Georg at his apartment past midnight. However, it is Paris, which from what I understand was much more modern than other cities.
I would probably have rated this lower, but I do have to give credit for a unique time period and locale. Still, it is not a book I recommend.