Today’s post is not a “book review” or a “Get Series(ous),” post. It is a “seriously, you’re wasting your life if you aren’t reading this book,” post.
There is at once a multitude of people for whom I admire, and a remarkably small number of people of whom I would truly claim to live in the Pantheon of my mind as a hero. Eleanor Roosevelt, Václav Havel, Sir Nicolas Winton, Hillary Clinton, Ann San Suu Kyi, The Notorious RBG/Justice Ginsburg, and Kim Phuc are among those I would readily and eagerly call “my heroes.¹”
However, when it comes to heroes whom I truly wish to emulate, there is but one–Madeleine Albright.
I’m no madwoman, I have no delusions of grandeur in the political arena. I am a writer with a potty mouth who goes to school too much. However, I am also an academic, a mother, and Czechoslovak-American. Madeleine Albright is also all those things. She was, by all accounts, a tremendous professor who stirred the intellectual imaginations and passions for the political process and international relations in the heart of anyone fortunate enough to find themselves in her lecture hall. By all accounts, her children have all matured into spectacularly ambitious and accomplished women. She is a singular human being.
She’s the baddest badass bitch in America. She was the first female Secretary of State in these United States. She was one of the closest advisors to the President during one of the most controversial presidencies, ever. She is a diplomatic powerhouse who rocked the international arena with her bold decisions and laser focus. Kosovo, the assassination of the Israeli president, Africa in crisis, the rise of Russia (part deux.) a global China, the list of diplomatic nightmares she faced during her tenure was maddeningly long. She managed to juggle these with a skill and competency which will stand in the annals of history as nothing short of astonishing.
Now, I’m no psephologist, but I believe that if you look closely enough at the 1996 elections, the Presidential Cabinet/advisor choices would play no small part in Bob Dole’s defeat. People simply didn’t trust the quiet Senator’s inner circle. They were political “cronies” to the public. The economy was good–ostensibly because the President was doing a good job, and had good people advising him. Kansas wasn’t thriving as much as the rest of the country. (To be absolutely fair to Dole, it was a Fallwellian state desperately trying to retain its agrarian economy in a time where it simply wasn’t feasible.) Even so, President Clinton (I hope I get to use that again in the present tense!!!) had a team of advisors one could liken to the School of Night. Almost supernaturally gifted in politics, the economy, and sensitive to the human condition, advisors which included Madeleine Albright were a group in whom America could place their faith.
Now, as a retired Secretary of State, Ms Albright spends much of her time in the public eye giving speeches, and of course, writing books.
The first book of hers which I read was Madam Secretary. My platonic soul mate, Amy, texted me not long after she began reading it: “I think I’m in love with Madeleine Albright, which is a problem because we’re both straight.” (or something similar.) I am ashamed to admit I didn’t pick up the book immediately. I had so many other books on my TBR, how could I possibly fit in a 750 page memoir? However, when I finally downloaded the audiobook, I was hooked.
It wasn’t just that Ms Albright is a wonderful writer, given to precise text and concise details, it was the sweeping nature of the memoir. I was alternately cheering, fist pumping–ala Gloria Steinem–and weeping with sadness and joy. The stories about her Czechoslovak parents, the manner in which she recounts their many successes, and even instances when their behavior baffles, is infinitely warming to the soul. She speaks boldly about the tragic nature of her entrance to this country–what was left behind, and what was gained.
I remember listening to my grandmother tell me many stories of what it was like for her family to leave Czechoslovakia; how dangerous it was, how terrifying, how full of hope. I imagined my family making that same voyage across that same cold, watery road which Madeleine Albright traversed.
I empathized with Ms Albright as she detailed life as a young married woman, wed into a family far different from her own. Different religions, different cultures, different status. The consecrated fields of new motherhood about which she writes are as fresh in the text as they are to any mother who has ever experienced that joy and agony. She even laughingly recalls the rapid swelling of her person when she was pregnant with her twin daughters.
She understands–truly understands–that horrible place women find themselves; that place where a woman feels as a world alone. A place somewhere between motherhood and occupation, in which all of us are occupied. That search for intellectual independence apart from the ties of family, but not so independent that the cords binding you to this amazing thing you’ve built cannot be wrapped around you, and recoiled quickly back unto your heart. She acknowledges that perfect balance is impossible, but that maybe a mostly-happy medium can be achieved. She also demonstrates via her personal narrative, how the motherly instinct is not just a tool of the trade in family, but how it enhanced her judgement and reactions in her high-level jobs.
Ms Albright goes on to write about her years in the UN. It’s fascinating. The inner machinations of the beleaguered institution are even more terrifying and intriguing when explained by someone who lived it. No countries were expected to perform as much or give as freely as the United States–and she doesn’t hold back. Her surprising candor, combined with the insight only achievable by experiencing it firsthand, and having time to reflect upon that experience, is not only surprising, but serves as yet another startling reassurance of the faith I place in the politicians she trusts.
Then there was Prague. Her home. I will not lie to you, this portion of her memoir touched me very deeply. I was weeping from the horror of it, expelling forth tears of joy from the pride of it, and dwelling in the awe that settled over me when listening to her tell me about the Velvet Revolution. At one point, she recounts the story of the student uprising, and the parents of the students joining the call to action. She talks about the orchestras playing in the streets, and the final fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. She was friends with Václav Havel. She, a Czech immigrant to the United States, was able to return to her home country with all of the knowledge of a free state, and experience in the political arena, and assist in helping her homeland find their way to democracy. It was utterly poignant, and somewhat heartbreaking. The implied counterfactual is there, and she discusses it. “What if?” What if she hadn’t fled with her parents? What if she was dealt the same fate as the rest of her family? What if she hadn’t been?
The third portion of the memoir discusses her time in office as the Secretary of State. It’s fascinating and juicy without being sensational. Here she is, trying to deal with Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat, and at home, Kenneth Starr has has panties in a bunch and a pitchfork up his ass for Clinton. In an instant the media circus set upon the White House in an insane tornado of unfortunate. How can you affect change in a country where the congress is more concerned with The President’s “little president” than with, say, NUCLEAR ARMAMENT?! Needless to say, your neck will ache from all of the head shaking. It’s baffling, and at no point does she give Former President Clinton an out. She doesn’t excuse his bad behavior, or even come close to justifying it. She is certainly not gagged by her loyalty to the Former President, and I respect that a great deal.
At this point in the book, the reader is sure like they couldn’t feel any closer to her story, but in chapter 22, she discusses the embassy bombings in Africa in 1998. Hundreds killed and thousands injured across a span of nations, led by Bin Laden. She writes about those dark days, and the reader (if old enough to remember) is instantly back in that place, remembering the horror. I was getting ready for acting class when I turned on the news while I dressed. The screen was filled with terrifying images I couldn’t wrap my head around. I was fifteen years old. The America I’d always known was suddenly put on the defensive. What would happen? Would there be war? Little did any of us know, this would soon be a dusty memory just three years, one month, and four days later. Fourteen years ago, today. At that time, America had not experienced anything of its kind since Pearl Harbor. Chilling.
This is the only book I have ever read wherein I have had some format of it (audio/ebook/HC) on my person for two months+. In total, I have probably read it, through parts and chapters, four times. To say the book is inspiring and life-changing feels trite and insincere, but it’s absolutely true. You are simply not the same after you read it. Madeleine Albright is certainly a force to be reckoned with, for whom America, the world, and especially women, should be grateful.
Five Stars and Stripes…and pins. Definitely 5 pins.
When I decided I’d review Madam Secretary, I immediately knew I needed to feature a Czechoslovak recipe to go with the post. After listening to the book, I realized that Ms Albright and I might actually be food soulmates. Sauerkraut on toast, dumplings, tea and sweets. KIT KAT BARS. Oh, and taco salad. (oddly enough, My aunt Rett makes the BEST taco salad on the planet, and now I’m desperate for some.)
This recipe is definitely one of my favorites, and with peach season in full bloom, it only makes sense. Did I veganize it? Yep. But honestly, this only enhances the final product–in both flavor and texture.
What is it?
Bublanina, aka Czechoslovak Angel Food/Bubble Cake. But better, because the fruit is ALREADY IN IT.
It should also be noticed that it has a bit more fat in the batter. My people are nothing if not fond of fatty foods.Fangirling Madeleine Albright with a review of Madam Secretary and Czechoslovak cake to honor her.… Click To Tweet
Bublanina, aka Fruity Angel Food Cake
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 35-40 minutes
Keywords: bake breakfast dessert vegan nut-free soy-free
Ingredients (16 slices–more or less.)
- 2/3 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
- 1 cup flour
- the liquid from 1 15.5 oz can of NO SALT ADDED chickpeas. (NOT trader joe’s brand. They’re always overcooked and with little remaining liquid.)
- 1 tsp lemon rind
- 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
- 1 lb chopped peaches or whole berries
- cooking spray
preheat oven to 400F
separate 1/4 cup of flour from batch and set aside.
combine sugar, zest, flour, and oil, stir
in another bowl, toss the fruit with the flour reserved.
combine the oil mixture with the fruit.
in a mixer on high with the whisk attachment attached, whip the bean liquid and cream of tartar into stiff peaks. This may take seemingly forever. (10 minutes, plus!) BUT!! It DOES WORK.
slowly fold together the fruit and flour mixture with the whipped aquafabas*bean water
pour into a greased 13″-9″ pan
bake 35-40 minutes or until golden brown and yummy.