Displaced for Their Husbands’ Jobs and Willing to Shine On Their Own

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AMBASSADOR’S WIFE
by Katie Crouch

Namibia’s vast deserts, devoid of greenery and teeming with hostile wildlife, fill Amanda Evans with despair. She reluctantly allowed herself to leave a comfortable life and a lucrative job in California and drifted to Namibia, where she became, to her dismay, “a penultimate wife,” a term used to describe partners accompanying diplomats on a mission.

However, her husband Mark is not a diplomat. He is a failing academic with a deep sense of inadequacy, and has just been awarded a Fulbright and – somehow incredible – a position as a “special academic adviser” at the US Embassy in Windhoek. Mark was supposed to write about the German holocaust of the Herero and Nama people, thought to be the precursors of the Holocaust in Europe, but it’s not nearly as interesting for him as hunting down a lost Namibian love interest.

In Katie Crouch’s sharply observing satire of the white savior complex and the toxic legacy of colonialism, Mark, like many of the worthless, incompetent husbands and chivalrous racist women who fill “The Embassy Wife,” has secrets. White characters lie to each other and to themselves. They insist that their privileges are entitlement. They think Africa would be a much better place if they were responsible.

This is the community Amanda encounters in Windhoek, where her individuality and agency are immediately erased in her role as “embassy wife” – this very phrase burying autonomous identity beneath that of a partner and an institution.

Still, Persephone, the self-appointed first lady of the diplomatic community who welcomes Amanda and puts her under a controlling wing, embraces her role. “She didn’t just follow Adam rotting in his shadow,” Crouch writes. “Persephone Wilder was someone who glorified the State Department by providing excellent support to her husband and family. and his peers.”

Like many idle wives before her, Amanda wants to do something to “make a difference”. Yet his fantasies, like many white foreigners intent on “helping” Africans, are fatally incompatible with those of the people he dreams of helping. (Another embassy wife observes with some sarcasm that Namibians “want to do something.” they way.”)

This purposeful quest leads Amanda and Persephone to embark on an ill-conceived plan to “protect” a rhino at the game farm of rich and powerful Mila Shilongo, an Oshiwambo woman fed up with white women. Mila didn’t like Persephone at all and was understandably offended by her insistence that ‘Everything could be better in Namibia if the Namibians listened’.

Mila knows that these women will never live in Namibia. “They would say what they did when they got back to the US. when i lived in africa … they used to tell people at parties. But even if they stayed for three years or 10 years, they didn’t really stay.” These words acknowledge that Crouch also remains a foreigner, and that his novel is less about Namibia and more about how foreigners write themselves.

His buffoon diplomats say they are ashamed of their president’s unfortunate dismissal of the entire continent, yet they are no different. Readers will learn nothing about the real work of diplomacy here – preventing war and all that boring stuff. Even the ambassador doesn’t understand his job. “Operating an embassy in a sleepy country is like running a restaurant,” he tells Persephone. “It’s all to honor the rank and organize proper events.” While this is false, the impression many Americans have is perhaps the result of our government’s over-reliance on political appointees rather than people with the decades of education required to do a semi-decent job.

The rhino adventure ends in disaster and secrets are revealed, many of them irreversibly straining credibility. The oddities are fun to watch though – like observing an accident you weren’t involved in. I wish it hadn’t been quite a few It’s so easy to backfire from these characters, pretending their blinders are different from ours.

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