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~ Introduction ~
I've come across this paperback when I was sorting out my books to keep or sell on or give away. Having read it a couple of times, I decided to read it again and write a review. 50 pages and about half an hour later I turned the last pages of this exceptional tale that was first published 75 years ago, in 1938. A short story that has never lost its remarkable edge and remained the one and only fictional correspondance that despite its tiny length has had enormous repurcussions long after it was written.
~ About the author ~
Kressman Taylor is the pseudonym of American author Kathrine Taylor (born Kathrine Kressmann in 1903, Portland, Oregon) who married Elliot Taylor, the owner of an advertising agency in San Francisco where she worked as a copywriter. The couple moved to New York where Address Unknown was published in Story magazine in 1938 where the issue sold out due to the immediate nationwide success of Address Unknown. Mrs Taylor then taught journalism and creative writing in Pennsylvania, though always regarded herself as a wife and mother foremost and did not publish another novel until her retirement in 1966 while living as a widow in Florence, Italy. In 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in Germany, Address Unknown was published again, this time translated into 20 languages and sold millions of copies. She enjoyed her rediscovered fame and died a year later in 1996 at the age of 93.
~ The plot ~
Two art dealers, best friends themselves run their business in the beginning of the 1930s in San Francisco. One of them Max is Jewish, the other, Martin is a German who returns to Germany in 1932 upon hearing news of a new democratic state of the Third Reich. At first, both of them are optimistic though soon enough Max realises all is not fine while Martin is getting more and more caught up in the brainwashing regime of the Nazis. What will this regime mean to them, a regime that will later destroy millions of people and pulling half of the world into a bloody conflict?
~ Characterisation ~
Short stories in general tend to suffer from a lack of characterisation due to their shortness and lack of interiorisation one of the most powerful ways of characterisation in novels. There is no internal dialog of either of the two main characters so that we could get an insight of what is going on in their heads - no. We only get to see and feel the thoughts they share between them - warped in time and space - and possibly consciously or unconsciously already sensored a great deal- but it is still a dialog. The characters hide behind their letters, their good and evil deeds, a creepy situation where humanity are merely numbers and codes, human lives are accidents, human deaths are statistics. Sounds all too familiar, doesn't it?
~ Writing style ~
The book is extremely easy to read, in fact just like you would read a letter sent from one friend to another. However, the lack of characterisation and uniform writing style made reading slightly annoying. Especially at the beginning, I would sometimes forget who was writing to whom and where they were writing from. Then I would turn back a few pages to find the address on the top of each letter. Could it be that Kressmann intended it to be this way, to contrast it with their circumstances that were a world apart in both a physical and psychological sense of the world?
Throughout the book I cannot help admiring her vision and insight into the realities of the Nazi regime, that especially so early on no one wanted to believe or even consider having the slightest truth in. She systematically brings blow after blow to Max until the point of no return. How would have history turned out to be if the public, politicians and the victims had realised what was going on?
~ Reading experience ~
After first reading it when the French translation appeared in 1995, on repeat reads I'm still enjoying this book and I am able to see more and more behind the seemingly simple words and one-dimensional storyline. There's a nagging question that no matter how many times I read the book again crops up. Our future. Long after the notorious events or the war that had now become history - racism, totalitarian dictatorship, genocide, ethnic cleansing - are still repeated on a daily basis. Why, again? Do not we not learn?
~ Conclusion ~
I would highly recommend reading 'Address Unknown' to the general public but especially to every young teenager . It's essentially a type of book that would make a great reading followed by discussion in the classroom at any level. It's a short, compelling, powerfully written and yet a simple story that it is still unparalleled in the history of American literature.
~ Price / where to buy ~
Bookstores: £6.99 Amazon: £5.49
~ Trivia ~
Address Unknown was turned into a movie in 1994 directed by William C. Menzies who also realised Gone with the Wind.
Thanks for reading.
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