MADAM AMBASSADOR by Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis


Three Years in Budapest
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A memoir of Kounalakis’ three-and-a-half years as ambassador to Hungary under President Barack Obama.

Conscious about her relative youth (age 43 in 2010), female sex within a male-dominated, hand-kissing Hungarian political elite, and lack of foreign service bona fides, the author accepted the top diplomatic spot to Hungary after her first choice, Singapore, became unavailable. So how does one become a U.S. ambassador? Indeed, much of this step-by-step chronicle to power serves to answer this question. In short, you get chosen after cultivating friendships with the most powerful Democratic women of your home state, California, namely Nancy Pelosi, and proving yourself a devoted party operative and fundraiser. Having worked with her Greek-American father as a land developer for 15 years, while fostering deep ties to the Democratic Party and rainmaking for its candidates, Kounalakis was rewarded—despite having fiercely supported Hillary Clinton in her presidential campaign—with the ambassadorship to one of the more successful and elegant former Soviet satellites, now a full-fledged NATO and European Union member. While there were not any major crises between 2010 and 2013, Viktor Orbán’s center-right party had swept the socialists from power, putting in place some troubling authoritarian restrictions, such as a stifling media law. There had also been gains as well in political extremism and anti-Semitism. Kounalakis briefly delineates Hungarian history—stopping well before the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 with nary a mention—but mostly plunges into the tasks she undertook: moving her family into the large, gloomy residence, keeping Hungary committed to providing troops to aid the U.S. war in Afghanistan, planning the yearly Fourth of July celebration and trips by American luminaries—e.g., Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and then–Secretary of State Clinton.

A flat-footed and mostly self-serving account.

Pub Date: May 5th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-62097-111-6
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2015


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