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A memoir encompassing love, loss, abuse, family secrets, and the Holocaust

This is the story of my father, Tomas Ungar, from the small Czech town of Boskovice, who became the more-British-than-the-British Tom Unwin, erstwhile intelligence officer, United Nations diplomat and champion of the downtrodden. 

What makes this book unusual and relevant in this #metoo era is the upending of the sinking feeling that it’s ‘just another Holocaust memoir’.

While my father’s roots lie in that period, I tease out why my charming and charismatic dad was in fact a wife-beating, narcissistic misogynist, who hid his Jewish roots and abandoned and kept secret his illegitimate daughter until his death-bed confession.

His whole life was a lie of one sort or another and, sifting through a suitcase-full of dusty documents, I gradually came to the hardest conclusion of all: it was possible to be part of the great Jewish exodus and still leave a trail of destruction, which culminated in his complete failure to comfort me when our daughter, Louise, died suddenly.

It was more a case of nature vs nurture, for my father inherited his cruel character from his father, Hermann Ungar, the Czech writer and diplomat, friend of Thomas Mann and Stefan Zweig. Tomas Ungar/Tom Unwin is an amoral everyman figure emerging rootless from a corner of Europe at the darkest hour – a reminder that it is not always history which shapes the man, but the man that shapes himself.

Vicky Unwin has had a long career, centred round her African roots, in both book and newspaper publishing. But she was always intrigued by her father’s secretive past and started to research the family history.

Then her daughter died of an accidental drug overdose in 2011 and her world was shattered. Her relationship with her father was already fraught and she abandoned the research, joining a campaign to introduce compulsory drug education in schools to warn of the dangers of ketamine and legal highs. She became a public spokesperson and wrote for national newspapers, appeared on Woman’s Hour, all the breakfast TV sofas, and graced many magazines.

But Louise’s death took its toll and Vicky developed a life-threatening soft tissue sarcoma. She turned to writing as therapy. Her first book Love and War in The WRNS (History Press), a collection of her mother’s letters home during the Second World War, was published in June 2015 and received favourable reviews.

Following her father’s death in 2012 she finally felt strong enough to return to the family secrets and this book tells the story.

As a result of all the trauma she wants to give something back while remaining true to her passions: she is a Trustee of United World Schools, whose charter is to ‘teach the unreached’. In addition, she is Chairman of a contemporary Art Gallery and a former Judge and current council member of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

She is five years in remission and lives life to the full. Her determination to survive and love of travel, films and food are celebrated in her blogs, Healthy Living with Cancer, Vicky Goes Travelling and Vicky at the Movies. She is a fantastic cook and loves nothing more than entertaining friends to a good meal – and is happy to offer to cook for your dinner party!

Tom has fled Prague, summoning his mother and younger brother. They arrived on 29 March 1939, 14 days after the Nazis invaded Prague.

Chapter 5 The metamorphosis of Tomas Ungar


Grete’s Certificate of Registration, issued on 29 June 1939, allowed her to stay in Britain for three months on condition that she did not ‘establish himself [sic] or seek any employment’. She rapidly agreed with Tomy that they should emigrate to Canada, where Rudi [her first husband] and John [son from that marriage] were also planning to go as soon as it could be arranged. Meanwhile, she rented a cheap flat on Fairfax Road near Swiss Cottage in northwest London, close to where I now live, from a couple whom Grete recalled had ‘dirty feet’ and ‘didn’t wash their clothes enough’.

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4 days in and 33% target reached! Thank you all...

Monday, 15 April 2019

Plus a great endorsement from Alan Samson, Chairman of Weidenfeld & Nicholson, who says 'I am very pleased. You book absolutely deserves to be published and I am a great fan of Unbound. I shall do my bit for you and the book!' Please share this great news - hopefully with the right thumbnail this time, not of my old book!

15% funded after TWO days

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Thank you all for your support so far...let's keep going and make this one of the fastest funded books on Unbound! Spread the word - tweet, insta and share on FB, plus forward to your friends. Thanks

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