Book Review - 'Address Unknown'

This book was first published in 1938, but I only became aware of it a few weeks ago when it was highlighted in the Guardian. After I read the article, I knew it was a book I had to read.

Book cover - ‘Address Unknown’

When events in our history change a life of open-mindedness and intolerance to the warped ideology of a dictator, the effect can be devastating. This enormously powerful tale brings an unprecedented vision of the horror and grief wrought by the Nazi regime.
Written on the eve of the Holocaust as a series of letters between an American Jew and his German friend,
Address Unknown is a haunting tale of immense and enduring impact, exposing the poison of Nazism. This memorable story survives in an age of racial, ethnic and nationalistic intolerance as a searing reminder that history can repeat itself.

This is the first time I’d heard of Kressman Taylor and the first book of hers I’ve read. It wasn’t published under her full name – Kathrine Kressman Taylor – because the publisher decided the story was “too strong to appear under the name of a woman”. But she didn’t seem to mind as she adopted ‘Kressman Taylor’ as her professional name.

It’s only a little book – 64 pages – but those few pages contain a very powerful story. The format is a series of letters between two close friends – an American Jew, Max, who used to live in Germany and his German friend, Martin, who’s returned to Germany with his family. Partners in business, they run a gallery in San Francisco under their joint names.

The first letter is dated November 1932, and it’s easy to see how close they are; they reminisce about the good times they had before parting company, and Martin’s children refer to Max as ‘uncle’.

By the time we get to July 1933, the tone of Martin’s letters is beginning to change. He writes, “I have never hated the individual Jew – yourself I have always cherished as a friend, but you will know that I speak in all honesty when I say I have loved you, not because of your race but in spite of it.” From that point, Max struggles to accept what is happening to his friend.

In Kressman Taylor’s hands, the transformation from close friends, almost brothers, to enemies, is handled deftly and, for me, believably. Words aren’t wasted, she keeps the focus between the two yet encompasses what’s happening on a larger scale.

In the ‘afterword’, written by her son, Charles Douglas Taylor, he used her own words to explain what inspired her to write the story, which included a personal experience. “[C]ultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German friends” of hers had returned to Germany after living in the States and, in a very short time, had turned into Nazis. When they visited again, they met one of their dear friends who happened to be a Jew. “They did not speak to him. They turned their backs on him when he held his hands out to embrace them.” And she wondered how on earth they could have changed so much.

Frightening. What makes it even more unsettling is this story was published in 1938, the year before the Blitzkrieg and four years before the chillingly named ‘Final Solution’.

Address Unknown’ was a success on publication. According to ‘The New York Times Book Review’ in 1939, “It is the most effective indictment of Nazism to appear in fiction.

Although successfully published in book form in America and Britain, it didn’t appear on the Continent until 60 years later. Tellingly, it was on the Reichkommisar’s list of banned books.

In Kressman Taylor’s own words – “I wanted to write about what the Nazis were doing and show the American public what happens to real, living people swept up in a warped ideology.

I firmly believe she achieved just that. Unfortunately, it also brings home how history appears to be repeating itself these very days.

Animated Book Covers

I just have to share the amazing work of Morgan Wright, whom I follow on Twitter.

She’s recently started a wonderful service where she animates author’s book covers. For a ridiculously affordable price!

Her explanation for her low prices – “it enables any author at any budget to get their book cover animated and helps a ton with marketing for an inexpensive price… that’s sort of my goal, that no author ends up excluded because they can’t afford it or because it’s an added cost they can’t add right now.

That makes her a star in my book. She’s so easy to work with and will keep tweaking the cover until her customer is happy with the end product. I can think of a few companies/people who could learn a few things from Morgan.

For now, these covers can only be viewed on Twitter and Morgan’s YouTube channel where you can check out the other covers she’s done and, maybe, discover a book or author you might enjoy. Hopefully, one day, Amazon and other outlets will allow animation on their sales pages.

Here are the 2 covers Morgan has animated for me – my latest, ‘The Raven and Other Tales’, and my third book, ‘The Spellbound Spindle’.

Do you think they’re more eye-catching than static images? I’d love to know your thoughts.

The Oldest Places of Worship in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

I thought it would be fun to share photos of some of the more popular sights in my Malaysian birth-town, Kuala Lumpur or as it’s more usually known, KL.

View of KL (own photo, taken 2013)

View of KL (own photo, taken 2013)

Instead of overloading one post, I’ll split them over two posts, starting with places of worship.

Just so you know, these particular photos are well over 10 years old.

Built in 1907, this is the oldest mosque in the city. Its name, ‘Masjid Jamek’ is Arabic; ‘masjid’ means mosque, and ‘jamek’ means a place where people congregate to worship. It’s situated where the two main rivers of the city, Sungei (river) Klang and Sungei Gombak, meet.

‘Masjid Jamek’ in KL (own photo)

‘Masjid Jamek’ in KL (own photo)

Masjid Jamek -    Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams    (Wikipedia)

Masjid Jamek - Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams (Wikipedia)

The settlers who first came to Malaya (as it was known before it gained independence in 1963) came either to mine for tin or to work the rubber plantations. In KL, it was mainly tin mining, and early settlers built their shacks here. In the 1850s, miners would unload their equipment and trek into the jungle to dig for tin.

The oldest Hindu temple in KL is the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, built in 1873 in the South Indian style, and is located, interestingly enough, on the edge of Chinatown.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple (own photo)

Sri Mahamariamman Temple (own photo)

The 5-tier pyramid-shaped gate tower, called ‘gopuram’ in Tamil, which means ‘tower’, is decorated with depictions of Hindu gods and goddesses, which were carved by artisans from India. What I particularly like are the shops that flank the temple’s entrance, giving the impression that it’s very much a part of daily life, accessible to the ordinary people.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Sri Mahamariamman Temple

An interesting little aside – generally speaking, those who came from India came to work the rubber plantations, while the Chinese came for the tin mining.

Then we have the oldest Taoist (Chinese) temple in KL, the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple.

Sin Sze Si Ya Temple (own photo)

Sin Sze Si Ya Temple (own photo)

It was founded in 1864 by Yap Ah Loy, who is regarded as the founding father of KL. During the mid-19th century, he developed the town as a commercial and mining centre. There’s a street named after him in the heart of Chinatown, Jalan (road) Yap Ah Loy. The way the road network is laid out, it’s near-impossible to just pull over and snap a couple of pictures; I took this as we whizzed by!

Next week, I’ll share photos of some other well-known sights in KL.