I've just reviewed Kressmann Taylor's 1938 classic Address Unknown over on The Book Depository:

Address Unknown is a highly moving and deeply troubling epistolary novella. It is an account of a friendship warped and destroyed in the years of Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930s. Martin Schulse has returned to Germany to pursue his business interests as an art dealer, his close (Jewish) friend, Max Eisenstein, remains in San Francisco running the Shulse-Eisenstein Gallery from the Californian end. After a couple of warm letters expressing their deep affection for one another, Max asks Martin to comment on the stories he has been hearing in the USA from Jews returning from the Continent: "I am in distress at the press reports that come pouring in to us from the Fatherland ... Write me, my friend, and set my mind at ease." Shockingly, Martin responds to Max neither with consolation nor affection, but with a request that their correspondence cease. Martin tries to explain himself, but it is clear he is in sympathy with what is going on in Germany. Worse comes: when Max's sister Griselle, an old flame of Martin's, is badly in need of help a shocking betrayal occurs. Martin has moved from being equivocal through being approving to becoming a Nazi zealot.

Profound and desperately moving, this tiny book (just 50 pages) packs a massive emotional punch. Kressmann Taylor (the pen name of Kathrine Kressmann) manages to explore the death of friendship consequent on the birth of a vicious ideology without ever becoming sentimental. Indeed, her book has very hard edges. This 1938 classic, which helped explain to America what was happening in the Germany of the day, is still an essential read.

Readers Comments

  1. I found that book so moving, particularly knowing its prescience - glad to see it being kept alive.

  2. I just read it during a free period. I loved it! So good. Apparently The New York Times referred to it as a perfection and I think I can only agree. It's well written, easily accessible to anyone, and it unveils the truth of that era with intelligence and great insight. I love the dual point of view and the way it really depicted with honesty the harshness of the situation.
    And I somehow felt relief though Max's bitter revenge.

  3. This little book is a remarkble insight into history ;demonstarting past horrors and at the same time warning of future atrocities.

  4. I've read it twice - quickly. It is easy to catch the drift and the horror of the era it portrays.. Am now pulling it apart as part of a literary critique and it is even more remarkable when you look at the detail and characterisation behind the simple historical plot.

  5. Richard Matthias Müller Wednesday 15 December 2010

    An astonishing sharp-witted booklet, written by Kressman Taylor together with her husband Elliot. What disconcerted me was that it contains two well-known antisemitic clichès: At the beginnung: the amusement about money-making cheating of the customers of the art gallery, and, at the heart of the matter, the lust of Jewish revenge as in Shkepseare's Merchant of Venice.

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