Vera and the Ambassador
Escape and Return
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A behind-the-scenes look at diplomacy and international relations in post-communist Eastern Europe.
Vera and the Ambassador is a book to be savored and enjoyed on many levels. Both a behind-the-scenes peek at the operations of a U.S. embassy in a post–Cold War former Soviet satellite and a personal story of a refugee's escape and triumphant return, Vera and Donald Blinken's dual memoir openly details their challenges, setbacks, and victories as they worked in tandem to advance America's interests in Eastern Europe and to restore a former Soviet satellite state to a pre-communist level of prosperity.
Hungary in all its cultural glory and historical anguish lies at the heart of this dramatic and deeply personal story. Born in Budapest just prior to World War II, Vera was only five years old when the Germans invaded in 1944. In a harrowing account, she describes how she and her mother managed to survive the atrocities of the war and, in 1950, narrowly escape Soviet-occupied Hungary for the freedom and opportunity of America. Making their way to New York, Vera settled into her adopted country with an indomitable spirit, a vow to become the best American she could be, and a hope of finding some way to give back as a show of gratitude for her good fortune in surviving the destruction of the war.
That opportunity came in 1994 when her husband was appointed ambassador to Hungary by President Clinton, just five years into the country's tentative transformation from a command economy and totalitarian government into a market economy and fledgling republic based upon democratic ideals. A former investment banker, Donald might have lacked foreign service experience, but his skills as an administrator and his willingness to try innovative ideas, combined with Vera's knowledge of Hungarian language and culture and her outreach to the Hungarian community, helped them deal head-on with a variety of challenges, including a collapsing economy and the threat of a slide back toward the old ways of communism, and a brutal civil war that raged across the country's southern border in the former Yugoslavia.
Replete with colorful characters from the streets of Budapest, humorous scenes at the ambassadorial residence, and accounts of tense high-level diplomatic negotiations in the run-up to Hungary's vote to join NATO, Vera and the Ambassador shows how the Blinkens helped chart a new course for American diplomacy in the mid-1990s. Ultimately, it is also the story of how Hungarians came to see them personally, and memorably, as their Vera and their ambassador.
Vera Blinken was born in Budapest and came to the United States in 1950. She graduated from Vassar College with a degree in art history and practiced interior design, first at the architectural firm of Edward Durell Stone, and later as the founder of Vera Evans Interiors. In 1996, while living in Hungary as the wife of the ambassador, she founded PRIMAVERA, the first mobile breast cancer screening program in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2002, for services to the Hungarian people, she was awarded the Middle Cross of the Republic of Hungary. Donald Blinken, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from 1994 to 1998, is a native New Yorker. He graduated magna cum laude in economics at Harvard University and cofounded the investment banking/venture capital firm of E.M. Warburg, Pincus & Co. He is currently co-Chair of Columbia University's European Institute and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The Blinkens live in New York City.
"In this book one can learn a lot of details about an ambassador and his wife representing the United States between 1994 and 1997 with experience, knowledge, passion, conviction, and worthy ethnic engagements … Anyone interested in going to work for the State Department might wish to read this book. Wannabe ambassadors and companions ought to make it required reading. Everybody else might take a look to see why some of our international politics turn out the way they do." — East Hampton Star
"…one of the best autobiographies in recent years … readers will appreciate the [Blinkens'] take on the 1990s in East[ern] Europe." — MBR Bookwatch
"…a revealing and fascinating dual memoir…" — ForeWord Magazine
"…a candid behind-the-scenes look at the glamour and challenges of diplomatic life … The energetic narration moves seamlessly from historical to contemporary political themes to the more personal and particular highlight of the book—accompanying Vera Blinken as she rediscovers what remains of the Budapest of her childhood." — Publishers Weekly
"…a gripping account of a refugee's escape and an engaging peek at the social and cultural aspects of ambassadorial life." — Foreign Affairs
"President Clinton made a wise choice in sending Donald and Vera Blinken to Hungary. This book serves as a reminder of the critical role that ambassadors can play in advancing the interests of our country at the pivot points of history. Their teamwork was good for Hungary, good for our country, and it also makes for a great story." — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
"Spend time with Vera and the ambassador—in person or in this book—and you encounter a remarkable American couple. Their devotion to each other, to our country, and to freedom is a treasure of our times." — Bill Moyers
"What a life! Vera and Donald Blinken are the ultimate power couple whose wise and witty understanding of our world should be required reading for everyone in public service. This is also a love story—love of country, love for each other—that will inspire generations to come. Vera and the Ambassador is a diplomatic coup." — Lynn Sherr, ABC News
"…provides honest insight into the role an ambassador and his spouse played in an emerging democracy." — George Soros