Perceptively, generously, Lerner's exact and exacting first novel reminds us that saving the world must always start at home, around ourown hearths, with our own loved ones. Without that, we are surely lost. With it, we may be saved.
George Lerner is a fearless writer, unflinching in his rendering of the world's worst atrocities and tender as he documents the impact of war. And even with its huge historical and geographical range, The Ambassadors still manages to take us deep in to the complex lives of its characters.”
With a documentarian's depth of field and a novelist's perspicacity, George Lerner expertly and poignantly illuminates the trials of nations and the trails of the heartand the ways to which they intersectin this deeply gratifying, deeply resonant novel.
In this bold and unexpectedly tender novel, George Lerner chronicles both our darkest times and our most hopeful. With the documentary eye of a journalist, he marches us across the unspeakably cruel killing fields of the twentieth century, and with the heart of a novelist, he explores the redemptive power of forgiveness and love.
It is easy to be awed by the The Ambassadors: by its terra incognita reach, by its sly tradecraft, by its plumb lines stretching from Brooklyn to Germany to Congo, from the buried stories of early man to the muted truths of a modern family. Like the Holbein painting from which it takes its title, this novel yields ceaseless marvels, and its author, George Lerner, is a cartographer making paths where before there was darkness.”
A father fights genocide on the world stage while neglecting the domestic front. Lerner's debut novel has a nonlinear structure: It jumps around in time, from the years immediately following World War II, to the 1960s, '70s and late '90s. Three narrators alternate: Jacob, an American-born Jew who was part of the Allied liberation force in Europe; his now-estranged wife, Susanna, a renowned anthropologist who has recently been diagnosed with malignant melanoma; and their son, Shalom, who, much to Susanna's disappointment, foreswore anthropology to manage rock bands. After Germany's surrender, Jacob is forever marked by what he has learned of Nazi crimes and by his failure to protect an Auschwitz survivor, Judith. His motto becomes "Never again" as he dedicates himself to the creation of the Jewish homeland in Israel and, whenever summoned by a mysterious operative named Salik, goes off on secret missions to help populations threatened by genocide. At a Hannah Arendt lecture, he meets Susanna, whose entire family perished in the Shoah. (She escaped Poland aboard a Kindertransport plane). Susanna has become disenchanted with her husband's frequent and unpredictable absences, and the decisive rupture occurs when his efforts on behalf of Homo sapiens interfere with her search for fossilized hominids. (On his rare returns, Jacob is not far away: He has been banished only to the basement of Susanna's Brooklyn brownstone.) When Shalom—whose comparatively trivial pursuits (promoting an African salsa band, clubbing and dating another failed anthropologist) hardly justify his status as a third narrator—informs him of Susanna's illness, Jacob deploys his considerable martial skills against an enemy that just may be invincible. Only one of Jacob's missions (in the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan massacres) is described in any detail, and even then his role seems peripheral and nebulous—the most riveting drama plays out much closer to home. This novel has good bones obscured by too much flab.
Jacob Furman has always seen his responsibility in life as rescuing survivors of genocidal hatred. Beginning in World War II, he took on the mantle of savior for Jewish victims. His unending secretive missions destroyed his marriage to Susanna, a brilliant academic anthropologist who was herself a Holocaust survivor. Now, in his early 70s, Jacob is serving in Africa as an impartial observer of the Tutsi revenge on the genocidal Hutus, living in refugee camps in Zaire. Jacob, however, finds himself unable to condemn every Hutu. In Brooklyn, a cancer-stricken Susanna attempts to organize one last conference that will hopefully bring her warring academic colleagues together. Their son, Shalom, who has never lived up to his parents' expectations, struggles to manage an Afro-pop band, help organize his mother's conference, and care for her. VERDICT Debut novelist Lerner is a television producer and journalist who has covered the African genocides firsthand. His amazingly balanced insights into the continent's unceasing tribal wars, and his depiction of a couple whose great love is subverted by opposing worldviews has generated a page-turner. As the story moves back and forth in time and place, from one atrocity to another, readers will be hoping for reconciliation before it is too late.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS