Yes, drum rolls please, as today we start our week of reading wonderful books from 1938 and sharing them round the blogosphere. This of course was Simon at Stuck in a Book’s idea – he came up with The 1924 Club and it was immensely popular, and so we’re repeating the experience with another year.
And 1938 promises to be a fascinating choice; there are so many great books that were published during that year that one of the hardest things has been whittling them down as you can only review so many books in seven days! I confess I’ve been reading up a little in advance (because I know how Real Life can often get in the way of books and blogging) – and there are some very exciting titles coming up. I’m having a separate page once more where I’ll put links to other reviews and blog posts, so please do leave a comment if you feature something from 1938.
I’m going to start the week with a little review of my first read from that year; it’s a book I’ve had for decades and I read it back in the day but hadn’t realised it was from the year in question. “Address Unknown” by Kressmann Taylor is probably one of the shortest hardbacks I have (just over 50 small pages) but my goodness, does it pack an emotional punch.
The book is an epistolary one, consisting of correspondence between two business partners in an art gallery. The men are also long-time friends – one is a German, one is Jewish, and this is 1932. The German, Martin Schulse, has returned with his family to his homeland. His partner, Max Eisenstein, remains in San Francisco running that end of the business. The initial short letters re-establish contact and are friendly and cordial. But Max is concerned – rumours are starting to come out of Germany about the treatment of Jews and his sister Giselle, an actress, is touring in Europe. As Max’s worries about her increase, the tone of Martin’s letters changes. It becomes clear that he is developing into a full-blown Nazi, and when Giselle turns to him for aid, things do not go well. Max’s revenge for this is chilling and effective…
You wouldn’t think so much could be got into one small book, but this is a powerful piece of writing and a remarkable achievement. The gradual realisation of what is happening in Germany; the horror of the change in the tone of the former friend; and the cold-blooded cleverness of Max’s response take your breath away. But what shines out here is the human cost of the conflict; Giselle’s fate, and that of all of her people, is heart-breaking and by focussing on the effect on just one family, Taylor makes her point even stronger.
Kressmann Taylor was the pen name of Kathrine Kressmann Taylor Rood, and an afterword by her son gives the history of the book and a little of her life. Although she wrote other works, this is the one she’s most remembered for now, and as the blurb says, it really does show the power of the pen as a weapon.
1938 was a year when what was happening in Nazi Germany could no longer really be ignored. Whether any of my other reads will be informed by events there remains to be seen, but “Address Unknown” was certainly a striking way to start off the week.