Lessons from the Edge: A Memoir, by Marie Yovanovitch

Nine stars

Always keen to expand my knowledge of world politics, I gladly picked up this memoir by former US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, which highlights a powerful career, even in the face of significant adversity. Yovanovitch explores her life working in the foreign service, from a low-level lackey at an embassy in Africa through to her ultimate job as Ambassador in Ukraine when Trump was ruining America for the first time. A wonderful read with many anecdotes perfect for the reader who loves to dig a little deeper into issues and see how things work behind the scenes. Yonvanovitch may have received a great deal of slack for her pushback against Trump, but she can also be seen as a hero for many who refused to let the man ruin the country.

Marie Yovanovitch grew up with two very strong-willed parents, having seen a great deal during their young lives. The Yovanovitches had Russaian and German roots within them, having done the best they could n authoritarian regimes. Yovanovitch grew up idolising her parents’ passion and found herself learning from their stories and life lessons, as she eyed a life where she, too, could play a role in international politics.

After attending school and preparing for the workforce, Yovanovitch found herself drawn to the foreign service, which would open so many doors for her as well as provide an education like no other. Yovanovitch recounts the hard training she undertook before she was placed in the US Embassy in Somalia, which would prove to be the first of many postings where her eyes were opened to the way things actually worked. The grittiness that Yovanovitch expressed cannot be lost on the reader, as she sought to change the world one day at a time.

After some junior-level assignments back in the US, Yovanovitch was given the chance to work briefly in the newly-democratised Russia, which proved to be quite eye opening for her. A country that had spent so long under the auspices of authoritarian Soviet rule, Russia was not quite sure how to digest the freedoms that democracy brought to the table. Yovanovitch sought to use these experiences to enrich her understanding of international politics and the world around her, which would prove essential when she had other postings in the region. The theme of authoritarianism to democracy and the wobbly back can be found in much of the latter portion of the tome, which is sure to be noted by the attentive reader.

Yovanovitch speaks of the times she struggled to climb the ladder within the foreign service, in hopes of landing an ambassadorship of her own. When she was noticed and offered a spot, it would be some of the hardest and most valuable work she could imagine. Working in old Soviet republics helped Yovanovitch sharpen her teeth to see just how intense the struggle was for those who sought to toss off the yoke of authoritarianism, but also the amount of corruption that surrounded her. Yovanovitch helped stem the tide repeatedly, but also came to see that Russia and its new leader, Putin, were seeking to move more towards a stronger dictatorial regime, even without the communist undertones.

Yovanovitch found herself butting heads with many who did not feel she could do the job, but also pushed parts of the old Soviet satellite states back into controlled environments. She vowed never to let that happen on her watch as America’s representative in the region. This helped propel her to the crown jewel position in her tenure, the US Ambassador to Ukraine, at a time when Russia was trying to annex parts of the country for itself. It would also prove to be a time when sentiments in the US were changing an an ignorant quasi-despot found himself seated in the White House.

Yovanovitch offers up many sentiments about how she saw Trump and his new administration, not one of which were positive. While she tried to remain neutral, it can sometimes be difficult when one sees their country being dismantled or turning into an authoritarian regime, a term Yovanovitch does not use lightly, but also one she can use effective as she had lived through this leadership style in her past postings. Trump wrote his own rule book and spat on those who did not follow it, making his sentiments known both domestically and on an international front. When Putin came calling, Trump could not cozy up fast enough, which also included trying to go on political witch hunts to remove anything standing in his way. This I where Yovanovitch could not take the pressure and had to act, subtlety at times. It would cost her a great deal, but left Yovanovitch wanting to tell her story so that others could see the horrors that befell her for trying to speak for America first and POTUS last. The last few chapters are perhaps the most intense and worth a slow and intricate analysis by the reader, as Yovanovitch sought to tell her side of the story, even as the Trump Administration attempted to muzzle her.

While I knew only a sliver of what happened in the latter part of Yovanovitch’s time in Ukraine, I was happy to have been able to take this story to heart and educate myself. Yovanovitch has a powerful way of writing that keeps the reader in the middle of things. The chronology helps pace the book along and keeps the reader in the middle fo what is taking place. Yovanovitch pulls no punches and keeps the reader entertained while also educating them from the opening pages unti lthe very last sentence. There is something to be said for such a strong-willed woman and the rollercoaster she wet through while serving her country. I found many of the stories insightful and it helped me get a better idea of the shape in which America finds itself nowadays I can only hope that I will find more books of this caliber that pull me into the middle of US and international politics, particularly as we ramp up for what is sure to be a hellish 2024 presidential election campaign.

Kudos, Madam Yovanovitch, for a stunning portrayal of America and the move towards authoritarianism. You are a hero to many, even when you want to be modest.