Skip to main content

Readers' Comments for The Ambassador's Daughter

In January, a select group of readers who participated in one of our Women’s Fiction Author Spotlight contests won copies of THE AMBASSADOR’S DAUGHTER by Pam Jenoff. The book is set in 1919, right after WWI, when Margot Rosenthal is brought to Paris by her father, a German diplomat. Resenting a city where she is viewed as the enemy, Margot realizes that life back in Berlin with her wounded fiancé to whom she can hardly relate anymore may not be so much better. Torn between duty and a desire to be free, Margot must make alliances and decide where her loyalties truly lie. Take a look at some of the readers' comments to give you more insight into this historical fiction novel about one woman’s search for independence --- and be sure to watch out for SPOILERS!

Margot, the protagonist in this novel, skimmed life --- or perhaps floated along on whatever current came by. An exceptionally well-educated woman due to her father's academic position and the fact that she traveled with him to various European countries, she was still quite naïve and unaware of the ways of the world. Engaged to a childhood friend who was seriously injured in WWI, she had not told her father of their secret (unconsummated) marriage, even as her aunt planned an elaborate wedding. Margot seemed to have a habit or character flaw of becoming immediately attracted to friendship with an older woman. There are secrets in the lives of all the characters that color their attitudes and reactions to life ---little of it really admirable in my estimation.

There were times in the book when Margot seemed to be a woman I could admire --- a woman of strength, resolve and capability. Other times when she was such a wimp, I really disliked her.

The historical setting was interesting, perhaps because it depicted an era about which I know very little. While there was some information about the hardships of many of the people, these characters seemed to live lives of privilege without any sacrifices, although I am sure that is true in any major, worldwide conflict. Perhaps those lives of privilege do give individuals a life that skims the surface and makes for shallow character.

THE AMBASSADOR’S DAUGHTER is a beautifully written book. I could barely put it down --- I was so engrossed in the tale, the characters felt alive and the world the author built around them was vivid. It was like I was there in the story with them.   

Margot Rosenthal is accompanying her father to Paris, where he is attending a peace conference. She would rather be somewhere else versus going along with her father. Eventually, Margot realizes that Paris is not so bad after all. The problem is, she's engaged to Stefan, but since his return from the war --- he has changed.  

Then, Margot meets Krysia, a piano player, and Georg, a soldier. Both Krysia and Georg will help shape and change Margot’s world forever. I would recommend this book to my friends and family.

It is an outstanding historical women’s fiction novel set in the days before, during and after the Versailles Peace Treaty negotiations after WWI. Margot Rosenthal struggles with friendships, family loyalties, secrets and her decision regarding her independence and being a Jewish German or a German Jew in Paris in 1919. This is a period of history of which I knew very little and the author, Pam Jenoff, did a great job of describing the significant events and repercussions after the Great War. Highly recommended!

Peggy --- This comment contains mild SPOILERS.
I enjoyed THE AMBASSADOR’S DAUGHTER. It was told from a unique point of view. The main character, a German Jew, is engaged (and secretly married) to a wounded soldier. While in Paris, she falls in love with a Nazi soldier, who is a sympathetic figure. She has been under pressure to spy on the Nazis through her lover.

Sara Hanna --- This comment contains SPOILERS.
The time period was very intriguing; much literature has been written about the pre-WWII and post-WWII period, but less about the post-WWI period. 

The main character in the story is Margot Rosenthal. While she and her father are both German citizens, she has spent the war years with her father in London, where he has been a visiting professor at Oxford. As the story opens, her father has been asked to work as a diplomat during the post-war treaty negotiations in France. Here, Margot, who is engaged to an injured soldier, Stefan, finds that she wants more from life than being the housewife of a man she does not love. 

I felt that there was a great deal of potential for this book; unfortunately, I do not think the book realized this potential. The main character, Margot, a young Jewish German woman, living at the center of events during post-War negotiations, was a very weak character. She failed to be honest with the people she loved and cared for --- her father, her fiancé/husband and the man she fell in love with. To each of these, she lies or fails to be totally honest, in order to save face or to avoid the consequences of her honesty. Her father, who we admire as a fair-minded and seemingly honest professional, lies to his daughter about the death of her mother (who it later turns out was actually alive) and has a long time affair with his sister-in-law. While he encourages his daughter to fulfill her potential, he also encourages her to marry the injured fiancé of her youth. Other characters are also involved in subterfuge and deceit. In fact, the only character that came across as totally credible was Georg Richwalder, who at the end of the novel becomes a National Socialist --- a Nazi. 

I also felt the book overlooked much of the background for this post-war period. It mentions that people sacrificed and went without, but didn't really elaborate. All the characters in the book, with the exception of Stefan who was injured during the war, and Georg, who lost his brother, seemed to be unaffected. Margot and her father in England thrived. Walter, Margot's father and a German businessman, did well, too. We do read of damage to homes in the Jewish sector of Berlin, but for the most part, we see life going on as normal for the main characters. I think the novel would have had a greater impact if the characters in the book had experienced some of the effects of the war or if the effects were made more real for the reader. 

Based on my impressions, I would give the book three out of five stars.  Again, while it was very readable, the characters and the background lacked the depth that would have made this a great book. For readers who enjoy historical fiction, this book may not be enough, but for readers who enjoy a romance story with Europe as a backdrop, this novel may be perfect.

This wasn't my favorite book of the year by a long shot. The historical detail about WWI was interesting and is what kept me reading the book --- certainly not the trite love story. But even the historical detail was questionable. At one point, one of the characters mentioned that Germany had none of the war fought on its soil (which I found remarkable), and then further on, the descriptions of Germany were ones of devastation (which was more in line with my knowledge of the destruction of WWI). The love story was predictable and boring, and I thought the main character was a little unbelievable for a woman of those times. Everyone around her seemed to fit into the culture and mores of the times while she seemed to have been rocketed in from another century. I confess, if it hadn't been such a short book, I probably wouldn't even have finished it. To mention it in the same breath as THE AVIATOR'S WIFE (as I've seen in their advertising) seems quite a stretch. The only person I would recommend read this might have been my 88-year-old mother, before she died. I think she would have enjoyed the simplicity of the story.

Greg and Gail
Although a good plot and unique setting, I had a very hard time getting into the first third of the book. The first person narrative was difficult for me, coupled with Margot being naïve and often uncertain. I might have liked it better if we were not in her head so much. Margot, although intelligently flawed, her lack of resolution is frustrating. Walking headlong into situations that are quite clearly going to have disastrous results? The character was unrealistic.

I like that she also explores the dynamic between parent and child, questions of loyalty and honor, the prejudice and negativity shown to Germans and the convoluted allegiances of German Jews, a population who faced discrimination on two fronts after the close of the first world war. For me, with this type of multi-concept storytelling, there is always something going on, even when the plot slows, so the reader has plenty of material to keep him or her engaged. I was not impressed with the wishy-washy, naïve and ambivalent heroine thrust into dangerous circumstances that don't force her to change or challenge her worldview. She was very self absorbed.  I had assumed that as she was being challenged that she would grow. Margot's experiences were simply dramatic plot twists instead of events that engendered her to action and to personal growth, and her decision to take a round-the-world trip to show her strength and independence read like the start of her real story to self-discovery instead of what is on the page.

However for all this, THE AMBASSADOR’S DAUGHTER is not all bad. The romance is lovely, if spoiled by Margot's indecision, and the focus on Germans is interesting. Looking at the Treaty of Versailles from the point of view of the everyday German provides much food for thought, and learning about the aftermath for the common person is interesting in general. The characterization of Georg is so fantastic it could keep the book going even if Jenoff had everyone suddenly break into song.

The exploration of change after war, the way people were practically forced to change, is wonderful. The varying nature of the characters and the different ways they cope or choose to move on provides plenty of food for thought. And whilst it is difficult to write off Margot's anxiety with this statement, Jenoff never gives the reader any need to feel that he or she must like the narrator.

The detailing may be misplaced and interesting threads lost to oblivion, but there is much to take away from this book. It will not suit everyone; it will likely divide opinion and cause contention for its structure and lack of adherence to history, but it is far from bad. THE AMBASSADOR’S DAUGHTER has many flaws, but the ideas it imparts are appealing. After I was used to Margot, the book was a much easier read and I wanted to find out how it would end!