book review: The Ambassador’s Wife

ambassadors wife

The Ambassador’s Wife By Jennifer Steil.
Doubleday| July 2015|389 pages |$26.95| ISBN: 978-0-385-53902-9

Rating: ***/5*

When I first heard about this novel I knew I wanted to read it: ambassador’s wife in a Middle Eastern country who gets kidnapped sounded both riveting and exciting. Unfortunately, it’s disappointing because the novel doesn’t delve far enough into the ambassador’s wife as the independent bohemian artist prior to meeting and marrying the ambassador. The basic storyline is that Miranda, an American, married British national Finn who serves as ambassador in a fictional Middle Eastern country. Prior to the marriage, Miranda lived a bohemian lifestyle and dated a woman.

“In the past, only with a woman had she felt her body truly unclench, the result of her politics falling in line with her heart. With men she had always been wary, monitoring her every interaction for signs of a power imbalance.”

Now with Finn, they have round-the-clock protection, servants and bodyguards. For Miranda, she’s given up much of her freedom and also pursuing her art in order to be a steadfast ambassador’s wife. She remains naïve about the dangers associated with being the ambassador’s wife. She thinks she can function just like she did as a single woman in this country. One day hiking with a group of women, she’s kidnapped and it’s an unbearable month-long ordeal that changes everything.

“Despite the tragedies, the restrictions felt slightly absurd to Miranda. She has been hiking in this country for three years without incident, and no one she has encountered on her journeys has ever been less than hospitable. In fact, she has been treated more like royalty in this country than she has been anywhere else in the world.”

There’s not enough color, depth and strength in the details. Steil explains Miranda like this: “In fact, she felt a reflexive and guilty condescension toward such domestic ambitions. Her conscience wrestled with this prejudice, meanness not sitting comfortably in her psyche. Who was she to judge anyone else’s choices? Just because traditional wifely duties were not for her did not make them less worthy.” However, Steil fails to show Miranda as this independent spirit. There are mentions of her teaching her Arab students and encouraging them to paint provocatively but the reader fails to truly feel the power and emotion which art can provoke.

Instead the author turns it into somewhat predictable fodder when she’s kidnapped. Instead of being this cool creative, Miranda is a devoted mom whose child to engulf every aspect of her life instead of remaining that vibrant independent. She truly loses her sense of self by being a mother. In addition, it becomes bogged down in unnecessary detail and for a thriller-esque novel it travels at a snail’s pace. Not good in any way. I applaud author Jennifer Steil’s ability to shape this middle Eastern country and provide readers with an idea what it would be like to be an American navigating such an unusual culture.

I kept reading so that’s the bonus. I would like to read a novel from a female ambassador’s point-of-view. The two novels I’ve read have been from the wives’ perspective. The wives tend to serve as hostesses and do some volunteer work; nothing nearly as challenging as their spouses. Author Jennifer Steil worked as a reporter in Yemen and is currently an ambassador’s wife. I expected way more detail. I’m sure she didn’t want to offend any country but I could certainly recognize either Yemen or Libya in her descriptions. I’m not sure why she chose to fictionalize the country. To me that falls flat. Either create a completely different country or city or don’t faintly hide it and think that no one will figure it out.

–review by Amy Steele–if you like my reviews and interviews please donate so I can continue to write.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

purchase at Amazon: The Ambassador’s Wife: A Novel

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