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  • Writer's pictureP D Dawson

Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor (Book Review)

An absolutely superb book that, though short, highlights so deftly and succinctly the dangers of radical leaders, and the fragility of a people living in poverty and unrest. A country, such as Germany in the 1930's, stricken by poverty and sanctions from the international community following the First World War, is so susceptible and open to promises of a better life, that sometimes they will accept anything as long as it promises a change for the better. But of course no one is so ignorant, as to believe the rhetoric of someone like Hitler and his National Socialist Party for long. As soon as the stormtroopers begin to infringe upon the human rights of Jews and the qualities of liberation, it becomes obvious that Hitler's new order is not for the good of all, or in fact for the good of anyone or anything but the power of the Party itself. As for the story, it is told in letters between two men, the Jewish Max Eisenstein, who lives in America, and Martin Schulse, a repatriated German now living in Munich with his wife, Elsa, and two young boys. To begin with there is a lighthearted joy between the two men as they remember the days when they were together in the US, and the excitement for Schulse of returning to his home country where there is signs of a new political movement that promises of a better life for its German citizens. We are then swiftly taken on a rollercoaster of emotions as Hitler's Socialist Party takes political power from the current German leader - the well respected and ageing Hindenburg, and begins to make changes in Germany that ripple through the people, and we see through the letters how it changes Eisenstein and Schulse's relationship, eventually to the point of Schulse telling Eisenstein not to write anymore, for their political and socialist ideals are now vastly different. We learn that for Schulse to even communicate with a Jew under such circumstances is becoming dangerous for him. The only thing that ties the two men together is their joint business with the importing and exporting of art, and if it weren't for that, you feel their letters would have ceased much sooner, and it isn't until Eisenstein fears for his younger sister, Griselle, who has moved to Germany to pursue her acting career, that he writes more regularly to know if Schulse has seen her, or if he knows what might have happened to her. I shall not say what happens to her here, but the ongoing letters from Eisenstein become more and more fraught with worry about his sisters whereabouts, as Schulse's fear of being associated with a Jew become more and more desperate. I think this book is a sobering, well written account of people living behind the borders of oppression, and their inability to reach out to the people who only see it happening from the outside. Such censorship and punishment is the weapons of any dictatorial and tyrannous state, and I think the popularity of this book, and the fact that it appeared on the Reichskommisar's list of banned books, just proves testament to its unyielding power, brought to life by Kressmann Taylor's wholly affecting and believable account of a friendship spoiled by war.


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