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Endpapers: A Family Story of Books, War, Escape, and Home

Endpapers: A Family Story of Books, War, Escape, and Home

by Alexander Wolff


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In 2017, acclaimed journalist Alexander Wolff moved to Berlin to take up a long-deferred task: to explore the lives of his exile grandfather Kurt Wolff and emigrant father Niko Wolff. With German-Jewish ancestors who celebrated all things cultural, Kurt Wolff became a renowned publisher at a young age, setting up his own firm in 1910 at the age of twenty-three, publishing Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Heinrich Mann, and others whose books would be burned by the Nazis. Just one day after the Reichstag fire in February 1933, Kurt and his wife Helen fled to France and Italy, and later to New York, where they founded Pantheon Books, which would publish Boris Pasternak’s Nobel Prize-winning novel Doctor Zhivago, alongside Gift from the Sea, The Leopard, and The Tin Drum, ensuring Kurt’s position as a celebrated American man of letters.

Meanwhile, Kurt’s son Niko, born from an earlier marriage, was left behind in Germany. Despite his Jewish heritage, he served in the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front, and ended up in an American prisoner of war camp before emigrating to the U.S. in 1948. As Alexander gains a better understanding of his taciturn father’s life, he finds secrets that never made it to the land of fresh starts, and discovers the fascinating history of his bourgeois ancestors, Jewish and Gentile, whose devotion to commerce and the arts defined the nineteenth-century German-speaking world. Whether detailing antisemitic riots long before Nazism, explaining the frightening story of a great-uncle in the SS, discovering how his grandmother’s family’s multinational pharmaceutical firm E. Merck peddled drugs to Hitler, or even retracing the story of a half-brother unknown to Niko, Wolff weaves an intimate tapestry across the decades and centuries, one with painful resonance today.

Drawing on never-before-seen family letters, diaries, and photographs, Endpapers is a stunning discovery of a family navigating wartime and its aftershocks, brilliantly evoking the perils, trumps, and secrets of history and exile.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802158253
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 531,175
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Alexander Wolff spent thirty-six years on staff at Sports Illustrated. He is author or editor of nine books, including the New York Times bestseller Raw Recruits and Big Game, Small World, which was named a New York Times Notable Book. A former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton, from which he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in History, he lives with his family in Vermont.

Table of Contents

Prologue xiii

Introduction 1

1 Bildung and Books 10

2 Done with the War 32

3 Technical Boy and the Deposed Sovereign 53

4 Mediterranean Refuge 78

5 Surrender on Demand 91

6 Into a Dark Room 113

7 A Debt for Rescue 128

8 An End with Horror 138

9 Blood and Shame 151

10 Chain Migration 182

11 Late Evening 189

12 Second Exile 208

13 Schweinenest 220

14 Turtle Bay 233

15 Mr. Bitte Nicht Ansprechen 241

16 Shallow Draft 253

17 Play on the Bones of the Dead 271

18 The End, Come by Itself 295

Epilogue 303

Acknowledgments and Sources 309

Bibliography 317

Image Credits 327

Notes 329

Index 365

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