The American Ambassador Critical Essays

Ward Just

The American Ambassador

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William North is a fifty-year-old foreign service officer, physically vulnerable because of an injury received while serving in a politically turbulent Africa years before. He is deeply committed to his wife but painfully estranged from his son, Bill, Jr., who, in part because of his early experiences as a member of a diplomatic family, has rejected the standards and policies of the Western political stance and allied himself with a German terrorist group that specializes in random international attacks.

The novel opens with North’s awareness of numbness in his hand, an inexplicable loss of strength. North begins to reflect on his own career, particularly the time spent with his family in Africa. Just crosscuts these reflections with the odyssey of Bill, Jr., and his girlfriend, Gert, as they drift over the European terrorist landscape, brutally murdering Gert’s own father. The young man’s relationship with the withdrawn Gert offers a distorted reflection of his own father’s marriage. The elder North’s deep commitment to his work and his marriage contrasts with the dispassionate, mechanized hatred that motivates the young terrorists. This cold hatred determines that North become one of their targets, one that is random in the public sense, but that is in reality highly personal and yet at the same time mythic: the primordial struggle between father and son, given a political twist.

Most effectively, Just yokes personal dilemmas and global tensions so that terrorism takes on a highly tragic, familial impact. Without sentimentality, but with deep emotion, Just places the issue of human ties -- ties that can never be forgotten or ignored--at the heart of the conflicts that rend the contemporary world.