From the blurb:
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.
I really enjoyed this book, for several elements:
The setting: Wonderful! I love France, of course, and the author sets the scene so well. For example:
In contrast to Paris or Versailles, Reims is a ghost town. Ours is the only motorcar on the narrow cobblestone street, which is deserted, save for a cart pulled by a sorry, malnourished mare. From the sidewalk, pedestrians eye us with interest. Here one can see the closeness of the war. Buildings the entire length of the street were destroyed by the bombs, and only the front walls remains standing, gaping craters behind the facades, which seem ready to topple at any second. The smell of gunpowder hangs in the air as though the destruction took place hours, and not months or years, ago.
The history: Meticulously researched. I was moved as I read, so strong was the resonance of the pain and tentative hope in the immediate aftermath of World War I. I found the exploration of the role of women especially interesting:
Bodies fill the makeshift dance floor in the center of the great room, moving in strange new ways to the lively jazz music that blares from the gramophone. Two women dance as though one was a man, pressed close together. A strange scent, something strong like burning flowers, mixes with the faint odor of sweat in the air. There is a kind of desperation to the revelry, especially among the women. It is more than just the wiping away of cobwebs and sorrow of a world struggling to live again. The chance for a normal life with a husband and child has been denied to so many, a generation of would-be suitors gone to the trenches.
I found myself sad, though, as I read, because of course you know what is to come for France and Germany and the other countries that would be pulled into the next war all too soon. The book really made me consider the history of that time, and what it must have been like to live then, and there – and how it would have affected le grand romance.
The thought that went into the writing: The book is intelligent, and thought-provoking. There is much to consider in terms of the implications of the Great War, and I like the fact that the author tells the story from more than one perspective; we see the war and its aftermath from all sides. The character of Georg , a German, is especially interesting, as we see a soldier from the defeated side work to rebuild his country’s defences.
The characters: Interesting, and real – even when that means not being idealistic or perfect, but having flaws and making mistakes. I liked Margot, the protagonist; though I did sometimes wish she was a little more passionate, I think she is realistic for a very young woman of the era. I loved Krysia, the Polish musician who becomes Margot’s friend, and Georg, her love interest. As for Stefan, the man whom Margot has left behind, his character broke my heart…
Overall, I feel the historical elements of the book come forth more strongly than the romance; but that is not to say that there isn’t a compelling romance interwoven through the plot. For writing style and setting alone, I’d give the book five stars. The only reason I’ve settled on four is because of a sadness underlying the ending that I found difficult to shake off (I won’t tell you; it will spoil the book). However, don’t let that put you off what is a superb book. Atmospheric, poignant, moving, expertly crafted – The Ambassador’s Daughter is a book I’ll be keeping on my shelf to re-read.
The Ambassador’s Daughter is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.