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Paying Calls in Shangri-La

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Paying Calls in Shangri-La: Scenes from a Woman’s Life in American Diplomacy

“This is a wonderful memoir about Foreign Service life abroad and the author’s transition from Foreign Service wife to Foreign Service officer. She demonstrates how, by being out and about in the host country, you can sometimes be in the right place at the right time. For example, she shows how, with the wit and language to take advantage of a banal museum opening, it was possible to learn Soviet plans for East Germany from a firsthand source the day after the Wall fell.”

—PHYLLIS OAKLEY, first Department of State spokeswoman and an early tandem diplomat

Judy Heimann entered the diplomatic life in 1958 to join her husband, John, in Jakarta at his American Embassy post, setting her on a path across the continents as she mastered the fine points of diplomatic culture. Drawn from memories of fifty years of life in the U.S. Foreign Service as a wife, then a “tandem officer,” and finally a frequently rehired retiree, the author begins her stories –– some funny, some poignant, all true –– with an account of how she came to Mobutu’s Zaire in 1978, much against her will. To her surprise, colleagues and Congolese dissident politicians there taught her how to become the diplomat she had long wanted to be, surrounded by able colleagues, valuable local contacts, and occasionally all-too-thrilling circumstances. The story then goes back twenty years to her husband’s first assignment, in exotic, uncomfortable, fascinating, and dangerous Indonesia. Most of her later diplomatic work occurred at European embassies abroad.

Heimann’s lively recollections of her life in Africa, Asia, and Europe show us that shuttle diplomacy, Skype, and email cannot match on-the-ground interaction. The ability to gauge and finesse gesture, tone of voice, and unspoken assumptions became her stock-in-trade as she navigated delicate situations.

Woven into her narrative are examples of how to be an honest and honorable diplomat and how to minimize the pernicious effects of ill-conceived security and personnel policies on the ability of career diplomats to do their job. Along the way, she illuminates the fifty-year evolution in the role of women in the Foreign Service as officers and spouses.

JUDITH M. HEIMANN has spent most of her life involved with American diplomacy, while writing widely on Southeast Asia and the Pacific. She is the author of The Most Offending Soul Alive and The Airmen and the Headhunters and coauthor of the award-winning PBS documentary based on the latter.