In this debut book, a writer shares the story of his father, an innovative structural engineer.
Weidlinger remembers his father, the Hungarian-born Paul, as full of amazing tales: of being arrested and sentenced to death at the age of 18; of becoming an apprentice of Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy and pioneering modernist architect Le Corbusier; of striving to “protect the world” from a nuclear war. Even so, there was much mystery surrounding Paul, who spoke seven languages and had worked on three continents. For example, Weidlinger did not discover that his father was Jewish until he was an adult and found Paul’s will (in which, it so happens, the author was not mentioned). It wasn’t until Paul died in 1999 and Weidlinger inherited a box of his papers that he was finally able to dig deeper into the life of the man. “It was clear that it was in those documents,” writes the author in his introduction, “in the languages I could not understand, that I would most likely find the evidence to prove or disprove his fantastic tales.” A portrait emerges of a Holocaust survivor who, through a series of remarkable encounters, was able to collaborate with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century and help change the way that people thought about architectural design. It is also the story of a man surrounded by tragedy, from the deaths of family members in World War II to the institutionalization of his wife for paranoid schizophrenia. Weidlinger writes with energy and compassion, even about topics that are understandably close to him, as here, when he discusses his father’s influence on his mother’s breakdown: “There are too many unknown factors and, if he did drive her mad, he did not do it with intent but rather with his own fear of her despair at seeing the ‘sharpest relations of things,’ things that were too dark for open conversation.” The book, which features family and architectural photographs, relates a captivating tale, with Paul simultaneously an archetypical European genius and a highly idiosyncratic figure. Fans of architecture will be particularly intrigued, but it is more broadly a story of the visionary upheavals of the 20th century.
An immersive and well-told account of a father and his legacy.