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An Unfinished Portrait

A journey around my mother

By Miriam Frank

Unfinished Portrait

Miriam Frank was born in Barcelona, Spain, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, from a German mother who fled Hitler, and an American father who emigrated as a child from Lithuania to New York, and transferred to Spain following his war service in counterintelligence. As Spain fell to Franco, two-year-old Miriam was moved to France, where she spent the next 3 years in hiding until her mother obtained a passage for them to Mexico in the midst of WW2.


Following her primary schooling in Mexico, they moved again to join another branch of her mother’s dispersed family in New Zealand, where Miriam completed her education and went on to graduate in medicine. Back in Europe, she settled in London, gained the Fellowship in her field, was appointed senior lecturer and consultant at the Royal London Hospital, married Rudolf Kortokraks, an artist and former assistant to Oskar Kokoschka, helped him establish an art school in Italy, and gave birth to two daughters.


She also moved on from her scientific writing to more literary forms with her translations of Latin American and Spanish authors and finally to her own writing. She is the author of My Innocent Absence (Arcadia Books, 2010), longlisted for the PEN-Ackerley prize for a literary autobiography of excellence, and An Unfinished Portrait (Gibson Square Books, 2017), which have received high praise in the British and foreign press and been translated into French (Éditions De Fallois) and Greek (Kapon Editions). A Turbulent Stillness, in a Day in the Time of Covid is in progress.

'Elegantly written and fascinating' - Fay Weldon

'More than a poignant memoir, a book of great optimism' - Edward Wilson, author of A Very British Ending


Frank explores the world of her mother, Käte, at an exceptionally turbulent time in history leading to two world wars. It is a story of relationship, love, betrayal and reprieve between characters intimately bound with the emerging ideologies and ensuing political and artistic upheavals of the early twentieth century. Flashbacks are reconstructed from Käte’s photograph albums, some letters left behind, and a return to her haunts.


They reveal a happy, passionate and liberated young woman fervently committed to justice in the face of the growing chaos and cruelty under the ascendant Nazis in her native Germany. After life in Berlin and London, and a sojourn in the islands of Helgoland and Mallorca, Käte settles in Barcelona where she forms a liaison with Louis, an American living in Spain following his work in counterintelligence in WW1, soon to turn to film making of the Spanish Civil War to assist the Republican side. Käte and Louis produce a daughter, Miriam, as the war escalates and Kate’s world comes crushing down, turning her ideology, friendships and idyllic times into disillusion, hardship and treachery. Their subsequent life of repeated moves and arrant austerity takes them across the Atlantic to a Mexico of muralist painters and Old World political and cultural émigrés. Miriam contemplates what is home in the face of persistent loss, as well as the enrichment gained from such diverse, cross-cultural experiences. She additionally questions throughout how their unsettled lives influenced her mother’s relationship with her, or her sense of identity in the absence of geographical roots.

​Running through the story is Miriam’s husband’s unfinished portrait of her, in which he captures her whole life in the expression of one eye, while the other remains a smudge. This unfinished portrait becomes a metaphor for our unsolved lives and inconclusive history.

Additional Information:

256 pages - Hardback - Illustration/photo's

Rights: World (excl. World English, French Greek)

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