The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

82 MARCH 2018 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL Foreign Service values. An examination of how easily a large bureaucracy can embolden unfairness with a dismissive shrug, this memoir also testifies to the considerable perseverance and grit the slog to equality requires. Andrea Strano, the author of “Foreign Service Women Today: The Palmer Case and Beyond” ( FSJ , March 2016), retired on disability after serving 10 years as a Foreign Service officer. She served in Manila, USNATO in Brussels and in the Bureaus of European and Eurasian Affairs and Interna- tional Organization Affairs. Before joining the State Department, she worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Red Cross and the Interna- tional Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland. She lives with her jazz musician husband in Clifton, New Jersey, where she writes, works as a voiceover artist and volunteers. She can be reached at When Friendship Takes Root Overseas The Confusion of Languages Siobhan Fallon, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017, $15.91/hardcover, $12.99/Kindle, 361 pages. Reviewed By Donna Scaramastra Gorman Every time we’ve moved to a new over- seas post, I’ve acquired some odd friends. It’s not that these new friends were odd people, not exactly. It’s just that they were odd choices for me—they weren’t the type of people I ever would’ve befriended back in the States. So it is with the main characters in Siobhan Fallon’s debut novel, The Confu- sion of Languages . Cassie and Margaret are both military spouses who moved to Amman, Jordan, when their husbands were separately assigned to the U.S. embassy there. The two women have nothing in common: Cassie has been struggling with infertility, and the rifts it has caused in her marriage, for almost a decade. Margaret, on the other hand, got married after her new boyfriend accidentally impregnated her—and neither particularly wanted to become a parent. The women find themselves thrown together when Cassie’s husband, a major in the Army, volunteers to serve as the social sponsor for the newly arriving Margaret and her husband Crick, himself a major. The two women grow to rely on one other and become almost-friends in the way of Foreign Service spouses who find themselves stuck together in the unlikeliest of places. The book takes place in Amman, against the backdrop of the newly devel- oping Arab Spring. Cassie is fearful, ten- tative, worried about making a cultural faux pas, while Margaret is none of these things—she revels in breaking the rules, at times seemingly just to irritate Cassie. The story opens with a car crash and then moves back in time, using a diary as a device to employ dual points of view, and to examine the friendship from the beginning. Fallon is herself the spouse of a mili- tary officer who was posted to Embassy Amman (full disclosure: we served there together); her story exhibits an under- standing of not just the rhythm of life in Jordan but also the unique bonds that formed among spouses in the insular embassy community in Amman. Those who have been posted in Amman will recognize many details of the setting, from the embassy playground frequented by moms with young kids to the guard gates staffed by courteous but occasionally too-friendly guards and the parties that sometimes devolved into drunken bickering. There were a few places where I wasn’t able to suspend disbelief. Is a newly arrived spouse who doesn’t know how to drive and doesn’t speak Arabic really going to drive herself an hour north to visit someone in another city, and then find her way home again after dark? But for the most part, the story rang true—not just in terms of life at an embassy overseas, but also as a tale of the peculiar bonds of friendship that keep us afloat at times but threaten to pull us under waves of jealousy and betrayal at others. Fallon’s first book, a collection of short stories titled You Know When the Men Are Gone (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012), won the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Fiction, the Indies Choice Honor Award and the Texas Institute of Letters Award for First Fiction, proving her skill with the written word. This new book will pull you in and make you think about the relation- ships you’ve developed throughout the course of your Foreign Service life. If you’ve ever been posted to Amman, The story rings true—not just as a tale of life at an embassy overseas, but also as a story of the peculiar bonds of friendship that keep us afloat at times but threaten to pull us under waves of jealousy and betrayal at others.