Reviews of my favorite books written by expatriates, journalists, and diplomats on what it's really like to live abroad

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: Married to the Foreign Service by Jewell Fenzi & Carl Nelson

Based on 170 oral interviews with US foreign service spouses (nearly all women), this history book is packed with behind-the-scenes details of what diplomatic life was really like from the 1920s to the 1990s.

It's not at all dry -- I was completely engrossed by the personal stories and lengthy quotes which cover everything from being evacuated from Tehran; being stationed in Moscow during the height of the Cold War; surviving coup attempts in Baghdad; coping with the McCarthy hearings; and swimming the Bosporus. Not to mention a few cocktail parties along the way.

Interwoven with these stories, you'll find a history of the role of diplomatic spouse, from an unpaid helpmeet with little or no official training to the upheavals of the women's movement (1972 was the year "they fired the wives") to the end of the century when some spouses were male. Also included, an examination of what it means to be a foreign-born spouse representing your new country when you've barely lived there yourself. (More common than you might think.)

You'll like this book if you:
- enjoy tales of diplomatic adventures from a female perspective.
- are considering a foreign service career yourself (or your spouse is.)
- study women's history.

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