MADELINE ALBRIGHT: A TWENTIETH-CENTURY ODYSSEY By Michael Dobbs
Henry Holt 466 pp., $27.50
The life story of Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as
United States secretary of state, "can be read as a personalized
version of the story of the twentieth century," writes Washington
Post correspondent Michael Dobbs in this new biography.
"Her family was formed and buffeted by the great events of the
century: the industrial revolution, the collapse of the Austro-
Hungarian empire, the rise and fall of Nazism and communism, the
Holocaust, World War II, America's ascent to superpower status."
Ms. Albright is also a stand-in for Everywoman in America, too.
"In her progress from Georgetown housewife to secretary of state,
Madeleine would become a symbol of the women's movement in America
and the struggle for full equality with men," Dobbs continues.
Albright's story is also one of self-discovery - or rather of
being discovered. Like a classical hero who discovers his true
identity only after reaching the pinnacle of achievement, she came
the public acknowledgment of her Jewish origins only after she was
named secretary of state.
The revelation was dramatic enough in itself, but it was
complicated by evidence of her apparent reluctance to confront her
Dobbs was the man who forced her to do so.
Albright, born in Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II, and
twice a refugee from her native land - fleeing first Nazism and
communism - has famously said that her mindset is Munich, not
Working on an in-depth story on Albright that would consider her
personal history in order to understand this worldview, Dobbs ran
across Dasha Sima. She was Albright's cousin in Prague, whom the
future secretary had seemed uncurious about getting in touch with,
even once the Iron Curtain had lifted - despite their having spent
much of their childhoods together. "Dasha was eager to tell me her
story - partly, I suspected, because I was the first person to
want to hear it," Dobbs writes.
Shortly, he had documentary evidence of her family's Jewish
background and the loss of her relatives in the Holocaust.
When the story came out, a great outcry ensued, including from
Jewish groups outraged that she would apparently seek to hide her
background. The questions quickly became, What did she know and when
did she know it?
Dobbs now concludes, "By Madeleine's own account,... she knew by
1994 at the very latest that she was related to a man who had lost
his entire family in the concentration camps."
It was all so ironic: If Albright's story, her "myth" in the
Joseph Campbell/Bill Moyers sense, is about a World War II refugee
making good in America, "the indispensable nation," then her story
only becomes truer if she is Jewish. …