The Woman Who Defied the Nazis in the World’s Most Dangerous Horse Race
A story that defies belief: National Velvet meets Downton Abbey with a splash of The Leopard.
Czechoslovakia, October 1937. Europe’s youngest democracy is on its knees. Millions are mourning the death of the nation’s founding father, the saintly Tomáš Masaryk. Across the border, the Third Reich is menacing – and plotting to invade.
In the Czechoslovak heartlands, vast crowds have gathered to watch the threatened nation’s most prestigious sporting contest: the Grand Pardubice steeplechase. Notoriously dangerous, the race is considered the ultimate test of manhood and fighting spirit. The Nazis, as usual, have sent their paramilitary elite: SS officers schooled to be Hitler’s most ruthless enforcers. Their mission: to crush – yet again – the “subhuman Slavs”. The local cavalry officers have no hope of stopping them.
But there is one other contestant: a silver-haired countess riding a little golden mare…
The story of Lata Brandisová is one of the strangest and most inspiring in all sport. Born into privilege, she spent much of her life in poverty. Modest and shy, she refused to accept the constraints society placed on her because of her gender. Instead, with quiet courage, she repeatedly achieved what others said was impossible. The scandal of her first attempt to ride in Pardubice reverberated across Europe. Ten years later, she became her nation’s figurehead in its darkest hour. Then came retribution…
UNBREAKABLE is a tale of courage, heartbreak and defiance, in an age of prejudice and fear. In the background are forces – sexism, class hatred, nationalism – whose shadows darken today’s world too. In the foreground are eccentric aristocrats, socialite spies, daredevil jockeys – and a race so brutal that some consider merely taking part in it a sign of insanity. At its heart is a unique hero, and a unique love affair between a woman and a horse.
“[An] astonishing story… beautifully pieced together by journalist Richard Askwith… Unbreakable is…much more than simply the story of a horse race. It is also a compelling insight into the fading days of the Habsburg empire and the rise of the women’s liberation movement between the two wars… exceptional…[and] heart-stopping reading which left me in tears”
Clover Stroud, Daily Telegraph
“[An] extraordinary story… Askwith’s compelling book, as much about 20th-century history and women’s equality as it is about racing, is a fitting tribute to a truly remarkable and courageous woman”
Camilla Swift, Mail on Sunday
“Askwith… writes beautifully… One of the most remarkable racing stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading”
Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder
“[This] thoroughly researched, deeply moving account does justice to a remarkable life”
John Cobb, Racing Post
“An inspiring tale of an indomitable spirit”
Nick Pitt, Sunday Times (Best Books of 2019)
“This is a truly great story which has the reader rooting for a 41-year-old woman of whom most will have never heard”
Peter Sharkey, The Post
“Lata Brandisová’s story is remarkable… Stirring, vivid stuff”
“Askwith’s book has all the ingredients of a compulsive page-turner… Lata Brandisova was one of the most famous sporting figures in Czechoslovakia… Largely forgotten…Askwith has hunted down leads to present her story in compelling style”
Alexandra Henton, Field
“A great story, one worthy of the silver screen”
UK Press Syndication, *Books of the Year*
“A fabulously written book about a remarkable lady. A must-read for National Hunt enthusiasts”
James Fry, International Racing Bureau
“Astonishing, inspiring, sad… I found it utterly compelling”
Rose Paterson, Chairwoman, Aintree Racecource
Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail
“A truly great story”
Peter Sharkey, The Post
“The Czech nation will surely feel that he has done [Lata Brandisova] justice.”
Robin Oakley, Literary Review