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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Diplomat's Wife: Historical Fiction at Its Finest

(Note: While this review will not contain spoilers for The Diplomat's Wife by Pam Jenoff, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from its prequel, The Kommandant's Girl. As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)
Apparently, I read too many books.
The other day, I was complaining to my husband about my failing memory. My 11-year-old son and I had just come back from a date to the movies to see The Lightning Thief. Unlike my son, I haven't read the whole series yet. I have read the first book, however, so you'd think that when my son exclaimed, "Hey! That wasn't in the book," I would have been able to respond with something more intelligible than, "Really? I mean, I know, right? Where did that come from?" My husband responded to my rambles with a look that had incredulous written all over it. Then he said something along the lines of, "You read like a million books a year. How are you supposed to remember them all?" The man has a point.
Our little discussion made me feel a whole lot better when I opened Pam Jenoff's The Diplomat's Wife and became immediately confused: Who is the main character, Marta Nederman? If you've read Jenoff's first book, The Kommandant's Girl, you may recognize the name, as she was one of its supporting cast members. However, it's been a while since I read the book (um, yeah, like 3 years - you can read my review here), and I couldn't for the life of me remember Marta. Knowing The Diplomat's Wife was a sequel, I was expecting a continuation of Emma's story, which began in The Kommandant's Girl. Naturally, I had to figure out who Marta was before I turned any more pages, so I read back over my review of the first book, skimmed its last chapter and voila! I had my answer (Hint: She's Emma's friend from the Krakow ghetto. She also had a little something to do with the Kommandant's demise.) Having finally gotten my bearings in the story, I was able to relax and enjoy it. Immensely.
When The Diplomat's Wife opens, Marta lies crumpled on the floor of a Nazi prison. Whether her conditions are any better than those of her comrades in the death camps she knows not, but they're plenty bad enough - she's trapped in a cold, rat-infested cell where she's slowly starving to death. The gunshot wound in her side makes movement agonizing, pain that intensifies with regular beatings from the cruel guards. Do what they may, the Nazis will never beat information out of her. She'd rather die than rat out her friends in the Resistance.
Marta assumes she's delirious when a handsome American soldier rescues her from her filthy cell, but when she wakes up in a clean, quiet hospital she realizes that it's true - the camps have been liberated. She's free. Now what? Thanks to the Nazis, she has no friends, no family, no life left for her in Poland. A chance opportunity gets her to England, where she's soon living with a wealthy family and working for Simon Gold, an important diplomat with the British government. When Marta discovers she is pregnant, and that her fiancee has been killed, she marries the bland Simon. Although not passionate, their union is safe and comfortable enough.
Then, comes the assignment that changes everything. It's a dangerous mission, one for which Marta is uniquely qualified. It's supposed to be a simple get-in-get-out operation, but things get very complicated very fast. Suddenly, Marta's thrust back into a world she thought she'd left behind forever. Once again, she's running for her life through cities devastated by war, countries where peace is as tenuous as a cloud, areas where she's hunted by assasins and haunted by memories so heartbreaking they threaten to destroy any shred of sanity she has left. She's desperate to complete her mission, help her homeland and go home to her daughter, but Marta's past and present are on a dangerous collision course, one that will have her questioning everything she's ever known.
At its heart, The Diplomat's Wife is a love story. It's also a gripping tale about the cruelties of war, the audacity of hope, and the dangerous business of rebuilding nations toppled by violence. With romance, suspense, heart-pounding action and vivid historical detail, it's a book that offers something for every kind of reader. It starts slowly, but builds to the kind of nail-biting conclusion that will keep you turning pages well past bedtime. An intense, engrossing novel, it's even richer when coupled with Emma's experieces in The Kommandant's Girl. I highly recommend both books not only for their engrossing plotlines, but also for the honesty, tenderness and knowledge with which Pam Jenoff writes. This is the best kind of historical fiction - exciting, romantic, suspenseful and satisfying. You won't want to miss it.
(Readalikes: The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff; also reminds me of the movie Shining Through)
Grade: A-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG-13 for some language; sexual scenes (although brief and not graphic); and violence
To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find
(Book image is from Barnes & Noble)
Check back on March 12 when I review Jenoff's new book, Almost Home, and interview the author.


  1. Susan, this sounds really good. I'm pretty sure I have both these books here somewhere. Ah, I have too many books. Not really, but sometimes. I love the cover and I'll look around and see if I can find them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I'm with your husband, by the way. Even though we can love the stories we read, we read just too many to keep all of them straight. :-)

  2. I really have to stop reading your reviews as you are always reviewing such interesting books. I'm off to add these two to my wish list (although do you really think I need to read the first book first, or can I read The Diplomat's Wife by itself)? I ask since I seem drawn more to The Diplomat's Wife .

  3. i read the diplomat's wife before i read the kommandant's girl- i think they each can stand on their own.

    i also enjoyed both books.


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