clever twist in the title alerts the reader to discernment in
choice of person and their diplomatic experiences.
Joanna Woods is herself a New Zealand diplomatic ''other'',
one of many who have given up career opportunities, uplifted
children from friends and schools (or sent them to boarding
school in other lands), overseen social events and adapted to
customs that were very different from those they knew well.
She chooses carefully the stories she tells, each chapter
shining a light into an experience that illuminates a
specific aspect of the challenges of diplomatic life.
The challenge for Maud Pember Reeves in the latter part of
the 19th century was returning to Britain where women still
had to gain the right to vote, from New Zealand where she had
been a prominent campaigner for the vote. Britain was still
''home'' and her husband an agent general rather than an
Maud responded to the political climate by becoming a member
of the Fabian Society and establishing close relationships
with leaders in the Socialist movement. She gathered other
Fabian women around her to develop the basis of welfare
policies relating to women and children. In an ironic twist,
her own daughter Amber was to have a child with H. G. Wells
and the telling of their negotiation of that is insightful.
The Reeves story sets out many of the themes in the
diplomatic life that are to be encountered in the lives of
others. There is the constant dilemma of exactly what status
the companion has. How this is established rests as much with
the tact and skill of the companion as with the cultural
expectations of the host country and its officials.
Where conditions allow, the status can be openly important
and result in valuable work in the host country. Eileen
Powles in the 1950s in Samoa was able to facilitate the
gathering of the village women's committees into a national
body that became a political force.
Correct behaviours in tense ideological settings are a
challenge. Moscow wives have needed strengths in forward
thinking, a capacity to deflect less than tactful remarks,
and a highly guarded conversational ability. In addition, a
powerful ideology can shift political orientation.
Ruth Macky, an archivist, became enamoured of Marxism and she
and her husband went to live in China, where their three
daughters joined the Red Guards, while the ambassador and his
wife trod difficult waters with the Russian post and their
In addition to the recurring domestic challenges of
relationships with servants, refurbishing of residences,
access to familiar foods, and the responses to unsettled and
dangerous events both natural and human in a country, Woods
devotes chapters to significant social shifts such as the
employment status of embassy wives and the recognition for
gay officials and companions.
Shifts within the diplomatic service are positioned against
changes in society, either in New Zealand or the host
country, to provide perspective. Shifts in policy and
diplomatic structure and title are also explored to effect.
This is a well-researched book. For the most part a range of
primary sources are used and in many cases, an interview has
been possible. Careful references and a selected bibliography
allow for further exploration of the lives of the subjects.
The chapters both stand alone and link together to present an
informative and interesting look at New Zealand's
Willie Campbell is a Dunedin educator.