American Romantic

Ward S. Just, Author
Ward Just. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-544-19637-7
Reviewed on: 01/27/2014
Release date: 03/01/2014
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Just’s 18th novel (after Rodin’s Debutante) tells the sensitive, elegant stories of a young, desperately naïve American foreign service officer and the two women who love him. Harry Sanders is a low-level diplomat with the U.S. embassy in Saigon in the early 1960s. It’s an exotic posting for a young bachelor, with the excitement of an emerging guerrilla war and the passion of a beautiful, restless German girlfriend, Sieglinde. Harry’s budding career, however, takes a fatal turn when he is duped into a secret, unsanctioned negotiation with the North Vietnamese and his actions come back to haunt him. Years later, Harry marries May, and she follows him through 30 years of global postings and ambassadorships, during which time Harry’s early career idealism becomes cynical posturing. And although he loves his wife, he cannot forget Sieglinde. In his work, he struggles to justify American interference in other countries’ affairs, while in his personal life, he is torn between his feelings for the two women. Only after he retires does Harry finally understand something about his life. Just’s clever plot reveals a man conflicted by duty and loyalty, adroitly playing the State Department career game, but always wondering what might have happened if he had just made one or two different choices in his life. It’s also a fascinating portrayal of American embassy operations and the treacherous shoals of international diplomacy and duplicity. Agent: Lynne Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Associates (Apr.)
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