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American Romantic

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  373 ratings  ·  92 reviews
Harry Sanders is a young foreign service officer in 1960s Indochina when a dangerous and clandestine meeting with insurgents—ending in quiet disaster—and a brief but passionate encounter with Sieglinde, a young German woman, alter the course of his life.

Absorbing the impact of his misstep, Harry returns briefly to Washington before eventual assignments in Africa, Scandinav
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2014)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  373 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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Mar 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
With American Romantic, author Ward Just hits another one out of the park for me [in the interest of full disclosure: I won this book from Goodreads Giveaway; this review represents my own opinions].

Just once again wins me over with his exquisite prose, and gentle, almost melancholic, atmosphere. I'm not that easily won over-I have an unfair aversion to white, male writers, especially those who appear to be affluent members of New England society. (The last is purely my prejudice; other than kno
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
First, a big thank you to Goodreads FirstReads and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for enabling me to be one of the early readers of this powerful new novel.

Ward Just has been writing books for over 40 years now and they just keep getting better and better. There’s a ring of authenticity to his books and insights that, for me, call to mind Graham Greene. For me, American Romantic ranks among his very finest.

Foreign services officer Harry Sanders is at the beginning of his career, yet realizes that
Aug 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'm a big Ward Just fan thanks to Nancy Pearl and this is one of the more enjoyable ones I've read.
Apr 06, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-lit
American Romantic is not among Just's best work, but I was impressed with:
He was eager to read the newspaper's accounts of the presidential campaign, now in full October flower. A black man running for the presidency! Harry had lived outside the country for so long he could not fathom how such a thing could happen, yet here he was, a graduate of both Columbia University and Harvard Law, a white man's pedigree. He was a marvelous writer. The last time a writer had occupied the White House was the
Dec 12, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Our protagonist, Harry Sanders, is a well to do east coast, (Connecticut), liberal, career foreign officer – bordering on stereotypical or at least typecast. Harry is also a familiar – and almost stereotypical - Ward Just character; an articulate, intelligent American, who spends as little time as possible in the US, and to put it mildly, is emotionally detached as he meanders through life.

In this novel the reader follows Harry’s life and times; specifically his State Dept. foreign postings and
Kasa Cotugno
We first meet Harry Sanders in Indochina in the early 60s. Young, somewhat idealistic, given the eponymous title by a lover. Harry could be a stand-in for American hubris, thinking diplomacy can make everything all right. Later, a more jaded Harry, likens his life in the diplomatic corps to Sisyphus and his rock. His wife, more pragmatic, objected to that point of view, "arguing that nothing was more idealistic than the pursuit of a doomed objective." Such is the baserock of this immersive novel ...more
Jun 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Just is a good novelist. The plot was a good one, but it meandered a bit too much for my taste. I was also put off by his decision not to use quotes with the dialogue. Not sure I understand why he did this. I am sure it made things confusing at times. But maybe that's just me.
Roger Brunyate
Jun 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
"we will not speak of it further"

I almost titled this Our Man in 'Nam. The first hundred pages or so of this urbane and intriguing novel are reminiscent of Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Harry Sanders, a junior career diplomat, is stationed in Vietnam (clearly, although never named), and is involved in an incident way beyond the normal expectations of his post and rank. There is the same acute sense of foreigners living at ease in a country on the brink of war, and of dangerous forces heavi
Varun Singh
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although there is not much of romance but more of hardships of life of a diplomat.
Nov 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Readers who have sampled any of Ward Just’s previous seventeen novels, as I have not, probably do not need my recommendation to read American Romantic. Those who are not familiar with him may want to read my review first because American Romantic is not for everyone.

Our book club was divided. Some didn’t get beyond the initial chapters; others didn’t finish it. Expectations are such these days that some readers have little patience for works that require an investment––i.e., giving an author ti
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
"The bare bones of a well-told story required coherence, ironic asides and a plot as well-knit and tied together as a jigsaw puzzle and somewhere in it a detail as provocative as a cat in a tree.''

That's from Ward Just's new novel American Romantic (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), a well-told story if ever there was one, complete with such provocative details as a cat in a tree, a meeting in the jungle, a girl in a hammock, a car over a cliff. All play a part in the life of diplomat
Elisabeth Stevens
Dec 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 11, 2014 rated it liked it
I received American Romantic as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

Harry Sanders works in the foreign service in Southeast Asia in the turbulent 1960s. Following a passionate love affair with a German woman, Sieglinde, and a professional catastrophe, he returns home defeated. There he meets his eventual wife, May, while Harry's career continues in posts around the world. Though no matter how far he travels, the two women who populate his past and present continue to affect him deeply.

The writing is ve
Rich Goldblatt
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
Ward Just's American Romantic had great potential as it offered new insight into the ramifications of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, for this reader, the story sputtered and characters became more enigmatic as the story unfolded. The author rushed[ the narrative and couldn't wait to accelerate the protagonist into old age for no reason other than draw a predictable conclusion.
Oct 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. Just is a very good writer. But I appreciate it for more than good prose. I was born 11 years after the protagonist, accordingly I can relate to a few of the novel’s events/situations a little better than a person much older or younger. Also, like the protagonist, I worked for a government in ways that required me to be distant from my home office much of the time. That’s where the similarities end. I’m not as intelligent or wealthy, and I worked for a smaller government. Bu ...more
Feb 07, 2019 added it
Shelves: bowdoin-reads
Reader in group - I'm a big fan of Ward Just, a great American novelist who is not as well-known as he should be. He writes above all about the political world and the people in it-- Chicago in the '50s has been a rich subject for him and Washington. He has also written about Americans overseas, expat. life in Berlin in one book and in Paris in another. American Romantic takes place mostly in Vietnam in the early 1960s place Just knows from his years covering the war there as a reporter for the ...more
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is my third try at a Ward Just novel. He seems like a novelist that I should find appealing. But I just have not found any of the ones I've tried very interesting. Two of the three (including this one) have been okay--nothing to object to--just not that interesting; the other one didn't even rise to that level for me. This one is about a career diplomat. The first half focuses on one life-altering, career-shaping event when he was a young man serving during a conflict in an unnamed country- ...more
Nov 27, 2017 rated it liked it
...would not go higher than a 3.5 here!

This story is about a bygone era where governement service was a noble cause undertaken by an American nobility that is less at the forefront of power as in the stories recounted here.

There is always a nostalgic feel to these types of novels that send you off to a time of greater "innocence", but in this case, it just lacks interesting plot lines...
John M.
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
While not a fan of "fine literature" (dysfunctional families, depressing storylines), I found American Romantic to be quite entertaining. Good solid writing and an astute look at American diplomacy at the turn of the 20th century.
May 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Just's style is very elegant, but this novel is just slow, slow, slow, and never really gripped me.
Jun 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-american
Although I have known of Ward Just for many years, this is the first of his works that I have read. My prior view had been that he writes from "inside the Beltway," has the intuition and sensibilities of a D.C. insider, and writes primarily for an audience of Eastern liberals, government types or other elitists who want to know (or think they know) what it is like on the inside. (I don't fit this description.) In other words, I was prepared not to like this book.

This much better than average boo
Jim Loter
Mar 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite Ward Just novel so far and I am so glad that I still have a few more to go. The story describes the life of Harry Sanders, a young American foreign service officer in Vietnam who becomes involved in an ill-fated mission of parley with an enemy officer that nearly destroys him. Harry picks up the pieces and settles into a fairly comfortable diplomatic life from which he eventually retires. The key to the tale, however, is in what is missing, and what cannot be said.

Near the
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
On the back cover of the dust jacket appears this quote from the Boston Globe: "There comes a moment. . .when a reader is brought up short by how spectacularly well Ward Just writes fiction. . ..Its effect is nearly explosive."

Hmmm. There's a scene early in this novel in which the protagonist kills a boy in the jungle in Vietnam in which the writing is very good. Not explosive, but very good. I kept reading to find more such scenes but failed. Just's novel is mostly a summary of much of Harry Sa
Mar 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
I loved this book about foreign service officer Harry Sanders and "his war," a war one can assume is the Vietnam War but is only referred to as the war in Indochina. After Harry has a passionate but brief love affair with a German woman, Sieglinde, he is saddened and confused when she vanishes from his life without even a goodbye by sailing off into the night on her medical ship. Harry then follows his ambassador's orders to meet clandestinely with an enemy leader in hopes of resolving some of t ...more
Dec 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Familiar themes for Just, as always, handled gracefully. The novel covers fifty years in the life of American diplomat Harry Sanders, from a posting in 1964 to Saigon to his retirement in the south of France. Harry's life is inexorbitaly changed by an ill conceived mission in Vietnam which he barely survives, to do so he has to kill a young Viet Cong soldier. He is left crippled physically and emotionally. Returning to Saigon he finds that Sieglinde, the German woman he is in love with, has left ...more
MisterLiberry Head
Nov 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
As my rating shows, I didn’t much like AMERICAN ROMANTIC, but I respected the skill and earnestness of the novelist. Equally experienced in the maze of the Vietnam War and the machinations of Washington, Ward Just starts AMERICAN ROMANTIC in the earliest, hazy days leading up to the escalation of that ill-conceived conflict. He never names the place in Indochina to which idealistic foreign service officer Harry Sanders has been posted. However, Just describes incomprehensibly teeming city street ...more
Mar 18, 2014 rated it liked it
Harry Sanders is the title character of AMERICAN ROMANTIC, a Foreign Service officer from Connecticut. As a young man he is posted to Viet Nam, before the war was a war, when the U.S. military presence was called a Military Assistance Command. The events and people he becomes involved with in Indochina continue to be important touchstones for him, as his life and career move downstream, especially his brief romance with a young German woman named Sieglinde and an ill-starred meeting with a leade ...more
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
As an aging romantic myself, I was a bit disappointed in this book. It starts relatively well with an early defining moment, like a small firecracker that leaves a persistent odor. The middle of the book drags a bit, but the ending chapters offer some compensation for finishing the book. As a retired traveler in much of the same world as the book describes, I found it a little thin on the substance of the life lived by those wondering the world. Certainly, foreign service officers would find man ...more
Mark Noble
I like Ward Just and his writing style, a real writer's writer, but this is the second book in a row that disappointed. The book has a great start, with Harry Sanders beginning his career in diplomacy in the jungles of SE Asia during the 60's. The second half of the book takes place after Harry is retired, his wife has died and he is thinking back on his life. It reads like a completely different book. Harry is in love with a woman in each part of the book. Sieglinde, in Asia, a very complicated ...more
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Ward Just (born 1935) is an American writer. He is the author of 15 novels and numerous short stories.

Ward Just graduated from Cranbrook School in 1953. He briefly attended Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He started his career as a print journalist for the Waukegan (Illinois) News-Sun. He was also a correspondent for Newsweek and The Washington Post from 1959 to 1969, after which he left