Anne Mar­shall Zwack’s hus­band recorded his love af­fairs in 5,000 lit­tle black di­aries – in­spir­ing her to take up her pen too. El­iz­a­beth Grice re­ports

The Daily Telegraph - - Features -

Ar­turo, the fam­ily don­key, has wan­dered over to the ta­ble in the gar­den, set un­der a canopy of wis­te­ria, and is start­ing to eat the sea­grass place­mats. One of sev­eral fran­tic dogs, an oily lit­tle dachs­hund, ap­proaches the Tele­graph pho­tog­ra­pher and slyly nips his left leg. The mistress of the house, re­splen­dent in a coral kaf­tan and match­ing es­padrilles, hasn’t no­ticed ei­ther of th­ese in­ci­dents be­cause she’s busy ad­just­ing her gon­do­lier’s straw boater, swathed with orange muslin.

“I do think writ­ers should wear hats, don’t you?” she calls across the campo, in the pen­e­trat­ing tones of a well-bred English­woman.

We are in Tus­cany and rows of vines stretch away down the hill un­der a blue sky. It is prob­a­bly rain­ing in Eng­land. A bot­tle of Hun­gar­ian white and three glasses have ap­peared. What’s a nip on the shin among friends?

Anne Mar­shall Zwack is an old girl of Chel­tenham Ladies’ Col­lege who over­threw con­ven­tion to be­come a model, live la dolce vita and marry an ec­cen­tric Hun­gar­ian “aris­to­crat”. Wisely, she doesn’t sub­scribe to the ex­pa­tri­ate guild of women writ­ers who hymn their Tus­can idyll amid the lusty olive groves. Her novel, The Diplo­matic Corpse, is a romp of wifely re­venge, draw­ing on her brief ex­pe­ri­ence as an am­bas­sador’s wife and in­spired by her el­derly hus­band’s life­long habit of record­ing his ex­penses, diet, busi­ness deal­ings and ex­tra­mar­i­tal en­coun­ters in small pock­et­books.

“Some­thing un­writ­ten has sim­ply never hap­pened for him,” she says. “If he loses a diary he is dis­traught be­cause it means that he has lost a week of his life.”

In the novel Mag­gie, wife of the Bri­tish am­bas­sador to Vi­enna, dis­cov­ers her hus­band’s di­aries af­ter he has dropped dead from a heart at­tack in the arms of a Vi­en­nese beauty. Be­tween the te­dious diplo­matic meet­ings, th­ese ex­plo­sive lit­tle note­books re­veal that he has had a mistress in ev­ery post­ing – sex­ual sat­is­fac­tion be­ing de­noted by the num­ber of as­ter­isks. With their lugubri­ous Hun­gar­ian

Tchauf­feur as ac­com­plice, the fu­ri­ous widow em­barks on a grand tour of Euro­pean cap­i­tals, ex­act­ing cus­tom-made re­venge on her smooth, sil­ver-haired hus­band’s paramours.

While we are wait­ing for the in­spi­ra­tion of this tale, The Hun­gar­ian Hus­band, to turn up, Zwack fills in the do­mes­tic back­ground. They met on a blind date in Mi­lan when she was a much-trav­elled 26-year-old trans­la­tor and typ­ist and he was 44, with a failed mar­riage and five chil­dren be­hind him.

“It was not your fairy-tale ro­mance,” she says. “His mother pro­posed to me. She asked: ‘Would you like to marry my son?’ I said: ‘Yes.’ She replied: ‘Then we’ll ar­range it.’ He found him­self up against a fait ac­com­pli. I think he was ter­ri­fied, af­ter his first mar­riage went wrong. She felt he had to be chivvied into it.” They went on a prenup­tial hon­ey­moon to Paris.

Zwack dis­cov­ered that her re­luc­tant suitor had been keep­ing di­aries since boy­hood. Mostly, he wrote in English, but “the Casanova chap­ters” were al­ways in Hun­gar­ian. When his Amer­i­can first wife was seek­ing a di­vorce, she had them trans­lated. “She dis­cov­ered that all the juicy bits were in Hun­gar­ian,” says Wife Two cheer­fully. “This rather put the nail in his cof­fin.” From then on, he had to use the trades­men’s en­trance to their Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

“Af­ter that, he be­came more cir­cum­spect. I did once have my sus­pi­cions about an Aus­trian amour. I must say, the times I looked over his shoul­der the di­aries seemed so in­cred­i­bly bor­ing that I was never in the least bit tempted to read them, but I no­ticed that he uses lit­tle ticks, like the logo for Nike train­ing shoes. My Bri­tish am­bas­sador uses as­ter­isks.”

This is quite a warm-up act. “He is the ar­che­typal Hun­gar­ian who en­ters the re­volv­ing doors be­hind you and comes out in front,” she goes on. “Peter is so in­cred­i­bly con­vinc­ing that even if I were sus­pi­cious he would dis­pel it in a mo­ment and if he were caught in fla­grante he would have a per­fectly plau­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion.” Re­ally? “You don’t know him.” here is a crunch of tyres on the dusty track. A huge black Audi gas-guz­zler, with no dis­cernible driver be­hind the smoky glass, pulls up in front of the beau­ti­ful, crum­bling old house and a very small man in smart slacks climbs out. He has a Rus­sian poet’s shock of straight brown hair, parted in the mid­dle, but his face is the face of an 80-year-old Hun­gar­ian. The press re­lease for Zwack’s book glam­or­ises him as a “Hun­gar­ian aris­to­crat and ex­ile”.

“He is from the mer­chant aris­toc­racy,” she ex­plains. “Like the Agnel­lis here, or the Guin­nesses. Through his mother’s line they have a small ti­tle, some­thing like a baronet.” It was not his ti­tle, big or small, that in­ter­ested her.

“I sup­pose he re­ally rather swept me off my feet. He was so dif­fer­ent from any­one I had ever met. Most men have lapsed into plat­i­tudes by their fourth sen­tence. Peter has never ut­tered a plat­i­tude in his life. I was ready to settle down. I had been wan­der­ing for so long. Age was never an is­sue. He is so youth­ful, even now at 80, in his ways of think­ing. And he keeps him­self phys­i­cally in much bet­ter shape than I do. He runs, he jogs, he bi­cy­cles, he swims…”

Peter Zwack is a charm­ing man with a colour­ful back­ground but you sense his Casanova chap­ters are a thing of the past. He was, af­ter all, keep­ing his diary as the bombs fell on Bu­dapest at the end of the Sec­ond World War. For cen­turies, his fam­ily had made the fa­mous herb-based bit­ter liqueur Unicum. When they fled Com­mu­nist rule in 1948, set­tling in El­lis Is­land, New York, they took the liqueur’s se­cret recipe with them and hid it in a safe-de­posit box. Zwack re­nounced his Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship to be­come the first non-Com­mu­nist Hun­gar­ian am­bas­sador to the United States in 1991, de­spite hav­ing no pre­vi­ous diplo­matic ex­pe­ri­ence. It was a short-lived post­ing. The Zwacks were pop­u­lar on the diplo­matic so­cial cir­cuit, less so with civil ser­vants. Peter Zwack was re­called af­ter only seven months, hav­ing pub­licly crit­i­cised his Hun­gar­ian gov­ern­ment boss.

“Some of it was my fault,” says his wife loy­ally. “I started be­hav­ing like a West­ern am­bas­sador’s wife but un­der Com­mu­nism wives were sup­posed to be in­vis­i­ble. The em­bassy was full of Com­mu­nist ap­pa­ratchiks. They thought I was ter­ri­bly man­ag­ing, you see. They didn’t like it that I was con­stantly quoted in the pa­pers. We had this in­cred­i­bly good food, cooked by a chef we brought from Hun­gary, and they ac­cused us of turn­ing the em­bassy into a restau­rant. They had no idea about PR. That is what we were good at. No­body pre­tended we would be good civil ser­vants. Peter was charm­ing peo­ple, mak­ing speeches and get­ting peo­ple to visit and to in­vest in Hun­gary and they just didn’t un­der­stand that. They com­plained his re­ports were not writ­ten in bu­reau­cratic Hun­gar­ian. There was a lot of jeal­ousy. It wasn’t a very nice story.”

Hap­pily, though, it fur­nished her with in­sider ma­te­rial for The Diplo­matic Corpse, in which she ex­poses the longueurs and pet­ti­ness of life lived un­der the glare of a thou­sand chan­de­liers.

“I tell you, I was very im­pressed by am­bas­sadors un­til I be­came an am­bas­sador’s wife,” she says. “It’s a very bor­ing job. You al­ways have to put on an act and if you don’t you’re let­ting the side down.” Still, when in Wash­ing­ton, she met five Amer­i­can pres­i­dents and sat next to Bill Clin­ton at din­ner. “My im­pres­sion was, first, that he was very in­tel­li­gent and sec­ond, that he was def­i­nitely a lech. He has bed­room eyes.”

Anne Zwack has been on the run from con­ven­tion since birth. By Steps in a Land Rover) dur­ing the last gasp of la dolce vita, to Mi­lan, and fi­nally to Bu­dapest with The Hun­gar­ian Hus­band. They have two chil­dren, Iz­abella, 31, a wine pro­ducer (known as “The Beau­ti­ful Daugh­ter”), and San­dor, 29. Peter Zwack bought back the ex­pro­pri­ated fam­ily liquor busi­ness, the first Hun­gar­ian cap­i­tal­ist to do so, and to­gether they re­vived it.

When Anne was 60 last year, she says their friend, Princess Michael of Kent (who is half Hun­gar­ian), of­fered three pieces of ad­vice for any wo­man reach­ing 60: get a per­sonal trainer, get a lover and do your pelvic floor ex­er­cises. Anne Zwack didn’t know she had a pelvic floor. As for the lover, it sounds as though The Hun­gar­ian Hus­band is safe. “I would feel ter­ri­bly guilty. Imag­ine lead­ing a dou­ble life. I don’t see how peo­ple do it. If you re­ally love some­body, that would be im­pos­si­ble. To me, it’s the ul­ti­mate be­trayal.”

As we are about to leave the house and re­tire to the lo­cal trattoria for lunch, Peter Zwack can be seen at the win­dow, scrib­bling his se­crets.

“I am now on book 5,351,” he says. “I write ev­ery day; my ex­penses, who I meet, my in­ner­most thoughts. It is bad for my me­mory be­cause I rely on it. If I lose it, I go crazy, I go nuts. It’s like los­ing life.” The di­aries are heaped up in his at­tic. He keeps a cat­a­logue of their con­tents.

“Now he is 80,” says his wife, “he is con­cerned about their fate. Mag­gie, in my book, finds peace by burn­ing her hus­band’s di­aries on a bon­fire. Peter was aghast at the idea. If the record of his life were to be de­stroyed, he would sim­ply never have ex­isted. So we have de­cided to bury them in the gar­den in Tus­cany.”

“In an air­tight cas­ket,” he in­sists. “They should never be al­lowed to rot!” ac­ci­dent, she was born in Lichfield be­cause that is where her mother, in labour, ended up af­ter driv­ing from Birm­ing­ham to find a hospi­tal bed.

She en­dured the reg­i­men­tal dis­ci­pline of board­ing at Chel­tenham (“We were al­ways march­ing places”) and the even harsher regime of the Bel­gian Con­vent in Ire­land – “a school for the gorm­less aris­toc­racy of all na­tions”. Her mother had con­verted to Ro­man Catholi­cism af­ter see­ing a vi­sion of the Vir­gin at Mont­martre, and dragged Anne, aged 11, into the Church in her wake.

“I re­ally got into it. I think I was flag­el­lat­ing my­self and wear­ing hair shirts. I loved all the plas­ter saints with crim­son nos­trils and the feel­ing of ex­ul­ta­tion. Sex was never men­tioned. We were given books writ­ten by wor­thy curés about how you had to keep your­self pure un­til you were mar­ried.”

Af­ter school, she went to Florence to learn Ital­ian, es­cape sub­ur­ban Cam­bridge and to be­gin a life less pure. There, she mod­elled for the Pucci fash­ion house be­fore mov­ing on to Paris, to Rome (where she drove down the Span­ish

The Diplo­matic Corpse’ by Anne Mar­shall Zwack (John Murray) is avail­able for £11.99 plus £1.25 p&p. To or­der, call Tele­graph Books on 0870 428 4112 or visit books.tele­

Em­bassy wife: Anne Mar­shall Zwack, above, and be­low, with Peter, a for­mer Hun­gar­ian am­bas­sador to the US. The Zwacks were pop­u­lar on the diplo­matic so­cial cir­cuit, less so with civil ser­vants

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