The Ambas­sador

Yehu­da Avn­er and Matt Rees
  • Review
By – September 8, 2015

The his­tor­i­cal nov­el The Ambas­sador reflects on what might have tran­spired if the League of Nations had declared Israel to be a state before the Holo­caust ever com­menced. As the sto­ry unfolds, word spreads that Pales­tine will be released from British con­trol and par­ti­tioned. The cre­ation of Israel is con­tro­ver­sial — not even uni­ver­sal­ly well received by Jews. The new state will, after all, be tiny and sure to be invad­ed by its neigh­bors. That David Ben-Guri­on has plans to set up an Israeli embassy in Hitler’s Berlin only adds fuel to the fire.

At the cen­ter of this tale is the new­ly formed embassy. It is the spring of 1938 and Dan Lavi has reluc­tant­ly agreed to become the first Israeli Ambas­sador to Ger­many. Despite his desire to remain in Jerusalem, he is of the opin­ion that it was the right deci­sion for Israel to main­tain for­mal diplo­mat­ic rela­tions with Ger­many. He pas­sion­ate­ly believes that it is pos­si­ble to use diplo­ma­cy to get as many Jews out of harm’s way and into Israel as pos­si­ble, and he’s will­ing to work with any­one who can help him accom­plish that goal. Not all of his coun­try­men are in agree­ment. For exam­ple, the goal of Lavi’s col­league Shmu­lik Shoham, the head of the new­ly formed Mossad, is no less than the assas­si­na­tion of Hitler. Dan and Shmu­lik are, of course, not alone in their philo­soph­i­cal strug­gles. The nov­el is pop­u­lat­ed by many his­tor­i­cal and fic­tion­al char­ac­ters whose expe­ri­ences and per­son­al­i­ties lead them to have wide­ly vary­ing view­points on how to get to the end result they each desire.

This alter­na­tive his­to­ry leads to an out­come that is opti­mistic, but not unre­al­is­ti­cal­ly so. Of par­tic­u­lar note is the authors’ abil­i­ty to ren­der a sto­ry in more than black-and-white terms. Avn­er and Rees show a sophis­ti­cat­ed grasp of the com­plex­i­ties of human nature, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing times of strife.

Two authors with dis­tinct­ly dif­fer­ent back­grounds joined forces to cre­ate The Ambas­sador. Yehu­da Avn­er act­ed as an advi­sor and Eng­lish speech­writer for four Israeli Prime Min­is­ters and served as an Israeli diplo­mat. His pre­vi­ous book, The Prime Min­is­ters, is a non­fic­tion­al account of Israeli pol­i­tics from an insider’s point of view. Matt Rees is best known for his mys­ter­ies fea­tur­ing a Pales­tin­ian edu­ca­tor turned sleuth. His per­spec­tive on the Mid­dle East has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced by his expe­ri­ence as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent in the region.

Relat­ed Content:

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

Discussion Questions