Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: The Spanish Ambassador’s Suitcase

Since we have bought so many non-fiction books in the past, I’m slowly trying to read through some of them. However, unfortunately, an awful lot of them are written by men. And in this case, it really shows.

The book publishes ‘amusing’ dispatches from ambassadors in posts around the world, mostly from the 1960s on. While in the introduction of the book, the editors talk about some of the racism that permeates some of these dispatches, sadly lacking is a similar apology for the rampant sexism. Indeed, there are only a couple of women’s voices in the entire book. Both of who weren’t even ambassadors (but one was a spy, which is pretty cool.)  However, there are various sexist tropes employed, including comparing Uruguay to a faded beauty. There were probably more references to prostitutes when describing a country’s inhabitants than other women as well. It was very disheartening.

It’s just frustrating when you read books by women and then shift to books by men, with their inability to see the glaring sexism.

The book is supposed to be an amusing look at the foreign service and the strange situations that diplomatic envoys can find themselves in. And for some of the time, this is true. The story about the Spanish Ambassador’s Suitcase was pretty funny, as well as the difficulties about importing a horse into Russia (a gift to John Major from Turkmenistan). However, after awhile, the “well penned dispatch” just felt more like chortling school-boy smarm. The editors pointed out that these dispatches sometimes made diplomatic careers, and by the end of the book I felt that I would have rather preferred sound analysis to amateur author hour.

Perhaps that is unfair, this book is meant to be an amusing look at the odd position of being an ambassador. But it really felt odd that these weird observations would have had an impact on how someone rose within the diplomatic ranks. One of the last stories had a jab at this very issue, that the most plum posts always seem to be stitched up. It’s depressing to think that appealing to some boring stereotype would be the key to serving the UK’s interest overseas.

I imagine many of the, primarily men were all of the same type of background: privately educated, Oxbridge types. Which just made it all a bit same-ish by the end. Everyone was trying to sound very clever, fitting a particular boring and often elitist style. But to say that everyone would find these amusing makes me think that the authors haven’t thought much beyond their own experiences for their research. Or maybe its a reflection of how elitist and un-diverse the diplomatic service might be.

Anyway, there were a couple good stories in there, but I think I’d give it a pass.

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