The Restless Hungarian

The Restless Hungarian is the saga of an extraordinary life set against the history of the rise of modernism, the Jewish Diaspora, and the Cold War. A Hungarian Jew whose inquiring spirit helped him to escape the Holocaust, Paul Weidlinger became one of the most creative structural engineers of the twentieth century. As a young architect, he broke ranks with the great modernists with his radical idea of the “Joy of Space.” As an engineer, he created the strength behind the beauty in mid-century modern skyscrapers, churches, museums, and he gave concrete form to the eccentric monumental sculptures of Pablo Picasso, Isamu Noguchi, and Jean Dubuffet.

In his private life, he was a divided man, living behind a wall of denial as he lost his family to war, mental illness, and suicide. In telling his father’s story, the author sifts meaning from the inspiring and contradictory narratives of a life: a motherless child and a captain of industry, a clandestine communist who designed silos for the world’s deadliest weapons during the Cold War, a Jewish refugee who denied he was a Jew, a husband who was terrified of his wife’s madness, and a man whose personal saints were artists.

Author: Tom Weidlinger
Publication Date: April 16, 2019



“[A] story of the visionary upheavals of the 20th century. . . . An immersive and well-told account of a father and his legacy.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A moving and insightful portrait of a brilliant architect and engineer by his son, a seasoned documentary filmmaker. Paul Weidlinger’s trajectory from Hungary through Western Europe and South America to the United States parallels the migration of some of the leading artists and architects of the 20th century. A colleague of Le Corbusier, Breuer, Moholy-Nagy, Kepes, Noguchi, and Dubuffet, Weidlinger made his contribution as a structural engineer who realized buildings, dams, and sculptures on three continents. This is a biography of a unique visionary who helped create the architecture that defines our times. It is also the saga of a family riven by madness—a compelling read. ”
—Steven Kovacs, Professor of Cinema, San Francisco State University, author of From Enchantment to Rage: The Story of Surrealist Cinema

“Weidlinger’s story of his father’s incredible life is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. Historically pertinent and deeply personal, it is told with searing candor. It is poignant, tragic, and wise.”
—Kati Marton, author of The Great Escape, Wallenberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Who Saved the Jews of Budapest and True Believer: Stalin’s Last American Spy

“There is a cinematic sweep in the way Weidlinger brings alive the story—and secrets—of his remarkable father.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, Bury the Chains, and To End All Wars

“A tender and deeply moving memoir, The Restless Hungarian explores the complicated and, at times, mysterious narratives of Paul Weidlinger’s life as they intersect with the currents of twentieth-century history. Engrossing, affecting, and beautifully written, the book offers important insights into the complexities of memory, Jewish identity, loss, intergenerational trauma, and—most essentially—family, that most luminous structure composed of both pain and love. “
—Nina Pick, Fellow, Yiddish Book Center’s Oral History Project

“In excavating the mysterious background of his titanic father, Weidlinger deploys the kind of compressed storytelling he has honed as a documentary filmmaker: deftly intercutting between past and present, revealing tantalizing clues that he follows across continents and epochs, and providing lively context that enriches his family’s saga. It’s a deeply affecting journey.”
—Peter L. Stein, executive director (emeritus), San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

“With a son’s longing and a historian’s drive, Tom Weidlinger has written an intensely personal book on the shaky radius of genius. Having come of age at “a time of manifestos” in Europe, structural engineer Paul Weidlinger fled the impending Holocaust and made brilliant contributions to twentieth-century architecture—only to watch a new generation of family ties fray and break in the United States. Weaving intellectual biography with warm, searching memoir, his son’s reckoning is both an important document and an unforgettable read.”
—Christine Cipriani, coauthor of Cape Cod Modern: Midcentury Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape and author of the forthcoming Ada Louise Huxtable

“Paul Weidlinger led an extraordinary life. Sleeping under bridges in Paris, escaping Nazi-occupied Europe for the mountains and jungles of Bolivia, he made and lost a fortune during World War II. Coming to the United States, he collaborated with the world’s greatest architects and did top-secret work for the government. This story is compellingly told by Weidlinger’s son, who combines a historian’s grasp of the big picture with a storyteller’s craft, honed over thirty years as a documentary filmmaker. To gain an understanding of what immigrants can bring to our country, this book is a must-read.”
—Barry Vogel, Creator and Host of Radio Curious

“A tale of triumph against all odds. . . a worthy tribute to an exceptional human being who advanced the world through architecture.”
San Francisco Book Review, 5/5 stars

The Restless Hungarian is a touching discovery of buried family history. The engaging journey, which seeks out the dormant past, is harrowing and revealing. . . . This is a biography-history book that readers will find entrancing.”
Manhattan Book Review, 5/5 stars

“In a mea­sured tone that is at the same time com­pas­sion­ate and dra­mat­ic, Tom Wei­dlinger has recon­struct­ed the life of the com­plex man who was his father, who suc­ceed­ed against all odds in his career, but had much less suc­cess in his fam­i­ly life . . . In uncov­er­ing the secrets his father kept buried, Tom Wei­dlinger has found the under­stand­ing he sought and giv­en read­ers a por­trait of a remark­able man.”
—The Jewish Book Council

The Restless Hungarian is a warm, heartfelt family memoir revolving around complicated relationships defined by world events.”
Foreword Reviews


Praise for A Dream in Hanoi:

“A tremendously moving record of the first collaboration between theater companies from both countries…lovingly crafted.”
—Ken Eisner, VARIETY

Praise for Swim For the River:

“Weidlinger’s riveting film recounts Swain’s swim . . . and the stories of the communities that have mobilized to reclaim the river from its polluters.”
—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

About the Author

Tom Weidlinger is an independent filmmaker who has been writing, directing, and producing documentary films for thirty-five years. Many of his films have won festival awards, and twenty-one have aired nationally on public television. Concerned with themes of social justice, his work deals with a broad range of topics, from the dilemmas of humanitarian aid in the Congo to the struggles of high school students with learning differences. After a lifetime of city dwelling and global travel, Weidlinger moved to the rural foothills of the Sierras. He and his wife, Sharon, live in a straw-bale house on twenty acres of land forested with oak and manzanita. When he is not writing or working on a film in his editing room, he volunteers at a community center, helping teenagers find their voice through filmmaking. He loves to snowshoe and hike in the mountains with Sharon, and takes special pleasure in close observation of natural world just outside his front door.