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Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor

Address Unknown (1938)

by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor

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Address Unknown was originally published in Story magazine in 1938 and immediately became a literary sensation, being reprinted in book form the next year in both the US and Europe.

The plot unfolds in epistolary form as a a series of letters between partners in an art gallery in San Francisco. Martin Schulse has returned to Germany with his family, while his Jewish partner Max Eisenstein remains in California to run the business. The letters begin as missives between two dear friends, but begin to take a turn as Martin is drawn into local political office and seduced by the message of the rising power of the Nazi party.

When Max receives a return letter from his actress sister marked "Addressat unbekannt," he pleads for Martin's assistance in her (she had been at one time Martin's lover). But Martin, now part of the Nazi apparatus refuses and tells Max to cease all contact. However, Max continues to write cryptic business letters to his former partner and friend.

Today, of course, the story seems predictable, but at its publication the story called attention to what was unfolding in Germany in the 1930s.

Last night I saw a production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, which chronicles the destruction of the career of a secular Muslim because he spoke up in court for an imam accused of terrorism. The message of the play was not so different from the message of Taylor's story. ( )
2 vote janeajones | Apr 8, 2016 |

Address Unknown is a short epistolary novella with a fascinating plot and a strong message; it was first published in 1938 and its author, Kressmann Taylor, is today almost forgotten.

Max and Martin own a successful art gallery in San Francisco. They are not only business partners but best friends. The bachelor Max is a frequent and welcome guest at Martin's home and quasi a member of the family; the delicate situation that Max' sister and Martin have an affair about which Max is aware but keeps quiet to Martin's wife adds an element of complicity to the relationship between the two friends.

Martin, who has never succeeded in becoming a real American, decides to return to Germany with his growing family. It is the year 1932, and a catastrophe is casting already its long shadows on Germany and Europe. What we read are the fictitious letters and a telegram between Max and Martin, which are an exemplary document for the shocking developments on a large scale in Germany.

The first letters contain the exchange of joint pleasant memoirs, some business news, family developments and also a growing amount of political statements. The friendship between the two once close friends doesn't survive very long the seizing of the power by the Nazis on 30 January, 1933.

Although Martin has in San Francisco never voiced anti-Semitic opinions, he suddenly talks about the inferiority of the Jews as a race, patronizes local Nazi leaders and finally requests from his former close friend to stop communicating with him. Max reluctantly agrees, but asks for a last time desperately for help from his former friend. His sister has disappeared from her Berlin home and Max' last letter has returned to him with the stamp "Address Unknown" on it which makes Max fear the worst.

When Martin writes in one of his letters to Max that the pogroms happen because "you (i.e. the Jews) are lamenting all the time, but you don't have the courage to fight back", he is committing a serious error that will cost him dearly.

As readers we can relate to both main characters, even to Martin. He is neither a sadist nor a born Jew-hater. He is a victim of the times and political circumstances in which he is entangled; he is a weakling and coward; he has too much to lose and he loves his wealth which he likes to show off a little bit too much - the combination of these characteristics make him the perfect Nazi follower and tool of their policy - just as millions of others that would have been in all probability decent persons and good friends, were it not for the specific circumstances in which they lived.

In a time of growing racism, populism and fascism in many countries, I would like to see this small book read much more; it is an antidote against these evils - and it sets an example that indeed individuals can fight back the Nazis or similar regimes and their followers; maybe not all is lost as long as people are aware that they are usually not completely powerless and can sometimes fight back with success.

A small and very impressive book. ( )
  Mytwostotinki | Mar 19, 2016 |
Address unknown is an epistolary novel. This means that the novel appears to be a correspondance in letters, but unlike, for instance Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road, which is an epistolary work based on real letters, Address unknown is a work consisting of fictional letters which together aim to tell a story.

This short novel was written by the American author, Kathrine Kressmann Taylor, and first published in 1938. Kressmann Taylor got her idea from real correspondence. By the mid-1930s she heard of American students in Germany writing letters home describing Nazi atrocities. Their friends sent them letters making fun of Hitler. Then, the visiting students urged them to stop doing that saying these letters put them in grave danger, and they might get arrested or even killed. Thus Kressmann Taylor got the idea of letters as a weapon or "murder by mail."

Most middle- and upper-class Germans had Jewish friends or clients before Hitler rose to power, but particularly after 1933 the political climate in Nazi Germany rapidly changed towards a situation where having Jewish friends was suspicious. In fact, while researching materials for her novel, Kressmann Taylor discovered that even well-educated Germans had fallen prey to the indoctrination to renounce friendship with Jewish people and despise them. The idea that German censors opened incoming and outgoing mail. monitored correspondence, and arrested people accused of having personal or business contacts with Jewish people flabbergasted Kressmann Taylor.

Address unknown is based on this idea. The book consists of a correspondence between Max Eisenstein and Martin Schulse. Together, they run a successful art gallery in San Francisco. Martin Schulse returns to Germany, where he quickly adopts the new political ideas of the Nazis. Max Eisenstein, his Jewish business partner, remains in the US to continue the business. As the story evolves, Max is slow to understand how the situation unfolds, and Jewish people realize too late how vicious the nazis are in their determination to exterminate the Jews. Martin takes a very active, volutary role in this process, and deliberately betrays Max when he asks him to help his sister Griselle, who is an actress in Berlin.

When the bitter truth dawns on Max, he takes a turn, and continues to write letters to Martin, until one day his letter is returned, marked "Address Unknown".

The short novella Address unknown is perfectly tuned to the slow-witted process of discovering how things stood in Germany at the time. Tipped off by the curious correspondence incident, Kressmann Taylor investigated what was known about Nazi Germany and discovered what tragedy was unfolding, long before anyone in the United States had a clear idea of what was going on. The novel was an immediate success, and was re-issued to serve as a warning. Most continental editions were lost as soon as the war broke out, and interest in this curious short novel only recently picked up as a French translation appeared in 1999, a German translation in 200, Hebrew in 2001 and a new English edition in 2002, with more countries and languages following.

Nowadays, censorship and fear of what carelessness are widespread. Americans are hesitant to send mail to Iran or North Korea, and in a more modern version, Internet and email censorship is ubiqitous. Apparently, the time is right for a re-reading of this novel. ( )
2 vote edwinbcn | Feb 23, 2016 |
Does the surgeon spare the cancer because he must cut to remove it? We are cruel. Of course we are cruel.

Martin Schulse and Jewish Max Eisenstein are partners in a successful San Francisco art gallery, and this book is made up of the letters they exchange when Martin, who has never felt settled in the USA, decides to return to Germany with his family in 1932.

To start with the letters are friendly, as Max updates Martin on how the business is doing, and Martin tells him about their new house and how his children are settling in, but the tone gradually changes over the next eighteen months as Martin becomes seduced by Nazism to Max's dismay.

Although the pen is mightier than the sword, as the saying goes, in this book the pen becomes a sword when it is used to get revenge for a terrible betrayal.

The author of this book was inspired by hearing about American students studying in Germany writing to their classmates back home begging them not to include jokes taunting Hitler in their letters as they could get someone killed. First published in 1938, this short book became a best-seller on both sides of the Atlantic and is still well worth reading now. ( )
  isabelx | Aug 1, 2015 |
This is a tiny work that delivers gut punches on every other page. Repeatedly, it seems to be overly dramatic and somewhat contrived, except that it’s all too believable and all too horrific.
It’s hard to discuss Address Unknown without including spoiler information, but I’m going to try because I think you should want to take a short time out of your busy day to read this through at one sitting and let the experience overwhelm you.
Max Eisenstein, a Jew in New York, corresponds with his non-Jewish friend, Martin Schulse in Germany, in 1932-34. They have a joint business interest, a New York art gallery. Hitler is setting the stage to become Chancellor of Germany in 1933.
Max and Martin exchange letters. Their correspondence is swiftly transformed from business matters and the chatter of friends, to awkwardly ingenuous, increasingly corrosive and bitterly destructive words that betray Martin’s embrace of the newly-politicized Aryan culture.
Max and Martin cease to be friends. The terrible consequence of their estrangement is no surprise, but not less terrible because we can so easily grasp its nature and implications.
The reader is left to wonder about the dreadful imperatives of human behavior that cannot avoid self-destruction.
More on my blogs:
http://historybottomlines.blogspot.com/ ( )
  rsubber | Feb 11, 2015 |
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My dear Martin: Back in Germany! How I envy you!
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743412710, Paperback)

A rediscovered classic, originally published in 1938 --

and now an international bestseller.



When it first appeared in Story magazine in 1938, Address Unknown became an immediate social phenomenon and literary sensation. Published in book form a year later and banned in Nazi Germany, it garnered high praise in the United States and much of Europe.

A series of fictional letters between a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco and his former business partner, who has returned to Germany, Address Unknown is a haunting tale of enormous and enduring impact.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:57 -0400)

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"A series of fictional letters between a Jewish art dealer living in San Francisco and his former business partner, who has returned to Germany."--Cover.

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