What makes a good man bad? Nature or nurture?
This is the extraordinary story of the author’s father, a Holocaust survivor who left a trail of pain and secrets in his wake.
Vicky Unwin had always known her father – an erstwhile intelligence officer and respected United Nations diplomat – was Czech, but it was not until a stranger turned up on her doorstep that she discovered he was also Jewish.
So began a quest to discover the truth about his past – one that perhaps would help answer the niggling doubts she had always had about her ‘perfect’ dad. Finally persuading him to allow her to open a closely-guarded cache of family books and papers, Vicky discovered the identity of her grandfather: the tormented author and diplomat Hermann Ungar, hugely controversial both in life and in death, who was a protégé and possible lover of Thomas Mann, and a friend of Berthold Brecht and Stefan Zweig. How much of her father’s child was Vicky – and how much of his father’s child was he?
As Vicky worked to uncover deeply-buried family secrets, she would find herself slowly unpicking the lingering power of ‘survivor guilt’ on the generations that followed the Holocaust, and would learn, via a deathbed confession, of the existence of a previously unknown sister.
Together, the sisters attempt to come to terms with what had made their father into the deeply flawed, complex, yet charismatic man he had always been, journeying together through grief and heartache towards forgiveness.
The Boy From Boskowice is one of the most thought provoking and affecting books that I’ve ever blogged about and I’m so glad I got the chance to review it and share it with other readers as it’s an important read that will resonate wth a great many readers who find out that their parents and grandparents’ lives are far different than the ones you’ve imagined them leading. Its context is the holocaust where thousands of people across the world lost everything, fled their homes and went through unimaginable suffering at the hands of the Nazis and in the midst of it all, the untold suffering that this has wreaked on so many thousands more survivors and their families’ lives.
This unforgettable and affecting read allows us an unforgettable insight into the lives of Vicky Unwins’ ancestors experience that she had no idea about – covering immense suffering with moments of light – all stored in a hidden cache of long lost letters and papers that allow us to see at close hand the devastating impact the terror and privations that they endured had on their lives and the lives of their familes too.
History is brought vividly to life as a place full of people just trying to survive, we gain insights into her grandfather’s relationships with famous historical figures as well as see the more ordinary aspects of his and her father’s lives brought to life for us across the years. The impact and historical echo of suffering and ‘survivors’ guilt’ is painted extremely vividly an at times this is a challenging read, but the overall impact is well worth it for the insight it gives us into the complexities of human realtionships and the sacrifices that had to be made that we have absolutely no comprehension of in these less dangerous times.
The people in this book spring to life from the page and remain with you for a long time after you’ve finished– it’s impossible to close the final page of this book and not feel a strong sense of sadness and loss at all these characters had to endure -as you know the entire time you are reading that this is only the story of one family and you can imagine the many thousands of families who went trough similar suffering and loss. The power of the narrative with its simple lyrical words to convey such powerful truths is an important part of why this book stuck with me and why I really think that you should read it too. I can’t forget their emotional as well as their literal struggle to survive and the impact of the choices they made is something that is brought so vividly to life for us upon the page. Vicky Unwin is a sensitive and reflective narrator who opens up her family album for us and allows us an insight into an imoprtant part of history that should never be forgotten.
This is an important read and I can’t recommend it highly enough – I love the fact that I’m reviewing it during the week of Holocaust Memorial Day and I hope that it will allow its readers a different insight into this period than the one we are already familiar with. This is not an easy read, but it’s a very important one and it’s one that I unreservedly recommend.
Buy yourself a copy here and make sure that you follow the rest of the tour to hear the thoughts of our other bloggers on this timely and important blog tour
‘The Boy from Boskovice tells the compelling story of a daughter’s quest to find out the disturbing truth of who her own father really was … This is an intimate narrative, cleverly woven, which sees the author courageously coming to terms with her father’s legacy.’ Sarah Helm, author of A Life in Secrets
‘Vicky Unwin has written a personal history which highlights our very current, global concerns with identity and our place in the world. It is an intimate exploration of family – and the damage that can be passed from every generation to the next. A fascinating read, filled with secrets and suspense.’ JoAnne Richards, prize-winning South African author of The Innocence of Roast Chicken –This text refers to the hardcover edition.
Writer On The Shelf
Vicky Unwin has had a long career in both book and newspaper publishing, centred round her African roots, and is currently the chair of Wasafiri Magazine and a Caine Prize Council member. Her first book, Love and War in the WRNS, a collection of her mother’s letters home during the Second World War, was published by History Press in June 2015. She has always been fascinated by family secrets and began researching the story behind The Boy from Boskovice shortly before her father’s death in 2012.
Vicky writes extensively about living with cancer at healthylivingwithcancer.co, and is a Trustee of Transform Drug Policy Foundation campaigning for the decriminalisation of drugs after losing her daughter to a ketamine overdose in 2011.