A searing, heartbreaking tale told in letters; author Kathrine Kressmann Taylor chronicles the catastrophic destruction of a friendship through pernicious ideologies. A slim novel originally written in the 1930s, Address Unknown cautioned readers to the splintering of humanity and the rise of hateful moralities ahead of World War II. A tale of vengeance, a classic and a literary triumph.
A rediscovered classic and international bestseller that recounts the gripping tale of a friendship destroyed at the hands of Nazi Germany
In this searing novel, Kathrine Kressmann Taylor brings vividly to life the insidious spread of Nazism through a series of letters between Max, a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco, and Martin, his friend and former business partner who has returned to Germany in 1932, just as Hitler is coming to power.
Originally published in Story magazine in 1938, Address Unknown became an international sensation. Credited with exposing the dangers of Nazism to American readers early on, it is also a scathing indictment of fascist movements around the world and a harrowing exposé of the power of the pen as a weapon.
A powerful and eloquent tale about the consequences of a friendship—and society—poisoned by extremism, Address Unknown remains hauntingly and painfully relevant today.
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About the Author
Kathrinek Ressmannt Taylor was an American author best remembered for Address Unknown, originally published in Story magazine in 1938. She was also the author of Day of No Return, and a professor of creative writing and journalism at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania for nineteen years. Kressmann Taylor died in Minnesota in 1996.
Margot Livesey is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels The Flight of Gemma Hardy, The House on Fortune Street, Banishing Verona, Eva Moves the Furniture, The Missing World, Criminals, and Homework. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vogue, and the Atlantic, and she is the recipient of grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. The House on Fortune Street won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award. Born in Scotland, Livesey currently lives in the Boston area and is a professor of fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Read an Excerpt
San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
November 12, 1932
Herrn Martin Schulse
My Dear Martin:
Back in Germany! How I envy you! Although I have not seen it since my school days, the spell of Unter den Linden is still strong upon me -- the breadth of intellectual freedom, the discussions, the music, the lighthearted comradeship. And now the old Junker spirit, the Prussian arrogance and militarism are gone. You go to a democratic Germany, a land with a deep culture and the beginnings of a fine political freedom. It will be a good life. Your new address is impressive and I rejoice that the crossing was so pleasant for Elsa and the young sprouts.
As for me, I am not so happy. Sunday morning finds me a lonely bachelor without aim. My Sunday home is now transported over the wide seas. The big old house on the hill -- your welcome that said the day was not complete until we were together again! And our dear jolly Elsa, coming out beaming, grasping my hand and shouting "Max, Max!" and hurrying indoors to open my favorite Schnapps. The fine boys, too, especially your handsome young Heinrich; he will be a grown man before I set eyes upon him again.
And dinner -- shall I evermore hope to eat as I have eaten? Now I go to a restaurant and over my lonely roast beef come visions of gebackner Schinken steaming in its Burgundy sauce, of Spatzle, ah! of Spatzle and Spargel! No, I shall never again become reconciled to my American diet. And the wines, so carefully slipped ashore from the German boats, and the pledges we made as the glasses brimmed for the fourth and fifth and sixth times.
Of course you are right to go. You have never become American despite your success here, and now that the business is so well established you must take your sturdy German boys back to the homeland to be educated. Elsa too has missed her family through the long years and they will be glad to see you as well. The impecunious young artist has now become the family benefactor, and that too will give you a quiet little triumph.
The business continues to go well. Mrs. Levine has bought the small Picasso at our price, for which I congratulate myself, and I have old Mrs. Fleshman playing with the notion of the hideous Madonna. No one ever bothers to tell her that any particular piece of hers is bad, because they are all so bad. However I lack your f ine touch in selling to the old Jewish matrons. I can persuade them of the excellence of the investment, but you alone had the f ine spiritual approach to a piece of art that unarmed them. Besides they probably never entirely trust another Jew.
A delightful letter came yesterday from Griselle. She writes that she is about to make me proud of my little sister. She has the lead in a new play in Vienna and the notices are excellent -- her discouraging years with the small companies are beginning to bear fruit. Poor child, it has not been easy for her, but she has never complained. She has a fine spirit, as well as beauty, and I hope the talent as well. She asked about you, Martin, in a very friendly way. There is no bitterness left there, for that passes quickly when one is young as she is. A few years and there is only a memory of the hurt, and of course neither of you was to be blamed. Those things are like quick storms, for a moment you are drenched and blasted, and you are so wholly helpless before them. But then the sun comes, and although you have neither quite forgotten, there remains only gentleness and no sorrow. You would not have had it otherwise, nor would I. I have not written Griselle that you are in Europe but perhaps I shall if you think it wise, for she does not make friends easily and I know she would be glad to f eel that f riends are not f ar away,
Fourteen years since the war! Did you mark the date? What a long way we have traveled, as peoples, from that bitterness! Again, my dear Martin, let me embrace you in spirit, and with the most affectionate remembrances to Elsa and the boys, believe me,
Your ever most faithful,
Schloss Rantzenburg Munich, Germany
December 10, 1932
Mr. Max Eisenstein
San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
Max, Dear Old Fellow:
The check and accounts came through promptly, for which my thanks. You need not send me such details of the business, You know how I am in accord with your methods, and here at Munich I am in a rush of new activities. We are established, but what a turmoil! The house, as you know, I had long in mind. And I got it at an amazing bargain. Thirty rooms and about ten acres of park; you would never believe it. But then, you could not appreciate how poor is now this sad land of mine. The servants' quarters, stables and outbuildings are most extensive, and would you believe it, we employ now ten servants for the same wages of our two in the San Francisco home.
The tapestries and pieces we shipped make a rich show and some other fine furnishings I have been able to secure, so that we are much admired, I was almost to say envied. Four full services in the f inest china I have bought and much crystal, as well as a full service of silver for which Elsa is in ecstasies.
And for Elsa -- such a joke! You will, I know, laugh with me. I have purchased for her a huge bed. Such a size as never was before, twice the bigness of a double bed, and with great posters in carved wood. The sheets I must have made to order, for there are no sheets made that could fit it. And they are of linen, the finest linen sheets. Elsa laughs and laughs, and her old Grossmutter stands shaking her head and grumbles, "Nein, Martin, nein. You have made it so and now you must take care or she will grow to match it."
"Ja," says Elsa, "five more boys and I will fit it just nice and snug." And she will, Max.
For the boys there are three ponies (little Karl and Wolfgang are not big enough to ride yet) and a tutor. Their German is very bad, being too much mixed with English.
Elsa's family do not find things so easy now. The brothers are in the professions and, while much respected, must live together in one house. To the family we seem American millionaires and while we are far from that yet our American income places us among the wealthy here. The better foods are high in price and there is much political unrest even now under the presidency of Hindenburg, a fine liberal whom I much admire.
Already old acquaintances urge me that I interest myself in administrative matters in the town. This I take under consideration. It may be somewhat to our benefit locally if I become an official.
As for you, my good Max, we have left you alone, but you must not become a misanthrope. Get yourself at once a nice fat little wife who will busy herself with all your cares and feed you into a good humor. That is my advice and it is good, although I smile as I write it.
You write of Griselle. So she wins her success, the lovely one! I rejoice with you, although even now I resent it that she must struggle to win her way, a girl alone. She was made, as any man can see, for luxury and for devotion and the charming and beautiful life where ease allows much play of the sensibilities. A gentle, brave soul is in her dark eyes, but there is something strong as iron and very daring too. She is a woman who does nothing and gives nothing lightly. Alas, dear Max, as always, I betray myself. But although you were silent during our stormy affair, you know that the decision was not easy for me. You never reproached me, your friend, while the little sister suffered, and I have always felt you knew that I suffered too, most gravely. What could I do? There was Elsa and my little sons. No other decision was possible to make. Yet for Griselle I keep a tenderness that will last long after she has taken a much younger man for husband or lover. The old wound has healed but the scar throbs at times, my friend.
I wish that you will give her our address. We are such a short distance from Vienna that she can feel there is for her a home close at hand. Elsa, too, knows nothing of the old feeling between us and you know with what warmth she would welcome your sister, as she would welcome you. Yes, you must tell her that we are here and urge her to soon make a contact with us. Give her our most warm congratulations for the fine success that she is making.
Elsa asks that I send to you her love, and Heinrich would also say "hello" to Uncle Max. We do not forget you, Maxel.
My heartiest greetings to you,
Copyright 1938 by Kressman Taylor
Copyright renewed © 1996 by C. Douglas Taylor