Endpapers: A Family Story of Books, War, Escape and Home – Alexander Wolff
“An event-filled biography and, along the way, a captivating case study in the challenges faced by refugees attempting to remake a life . . . Part of Mr. Wolff’s chronicle has to do with the family lineage of which he is a part, not least the experience of his own father, Kurt’s son Niko . . . Not content with registering the tectonic shifts of the times, [Kurt] Wolff brought about convulsions of his own, shaking up the American postwar literary scene. His grandson’s book, as enlightening as it is engaging, measures the effects.” –Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal
“Revelatory, riveting, and deeply moving . . . The question of German guilt, both individual and collective, continues to haunt Alexander Wolff as he dives deeper into his family history . . . Wolff lands back in America in July 2018, midway through the Trump years, amid a surge of homegrown nativism and bigotry. It is a reminder of the forces that his father and grandfather confronted in much darker times, and of the fragility of even the most stable and democratic societies.” –Joshua Hammer, New York Review of Books
“Wolff delivers a poignant portrait of his grandfather, Pantheon Books founder Kurt Wolff, and his own father, Niko Wolff . . . Wolff skillfully contextualizes his father and grandfather’s tales with military and political history . . . History buffs and literary enthusiasts will be rewarded.” —Publishers Weekly
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A sweeping portrait of the turmoil of the twentieth century and the legacy of immigration, as seen through the German-American family of the celebrated book publisher Kurt Wolff
A literary gem researched over a year the author spent living in Berlin, Endpapers excavates the extraordinary histories of the authors grandfather and father: the renowned publisher Kurt Wolff, dubbed perhaps the twentieth centurys most discriminating publisher by the New York Times Book Review, and his son Niko, who fought in the Wehrmacht during World War II before coming to America.
Kurt Wolff was born in Bonn into a highly cultured German-Jewish family, whose ancestors included converts to Christianity, among them Baron Moritz von Haber, whose desire to demand satisfaction in a duel sparked off bloody antisemitic riots. Always bookish, Kurt became a publisher at twenty-three, setting up his own firm and publishing Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Karl Kraus, and many other authors whose books would soon be burned by the Nazis. Fleeing Germany in 1933, a day after the Reichstag fire, Kurt and his second wife, Helen, sought refuge in France, Italy, and ultimately New York, where in a small Greenwich Village apartment they founded Pantheon Books. Pantheon would soon take its own place in literary history with the publication of Nobel laureate Boris Pasternaks novel Doctor Zhivago, and as the conduit that brought major European works to the States. But Kurts taciturn son Niko, offspring of his first marriage to Elisabeth Merck, was left behind in Germany, where despite his Jewish heritage he served the Nazis on two fronts. As Alexander Wolff visits dusty archives and meets distant relatives, he discovers secrets that never made it to the land of fresh starts, including the connection between Hitler and the family pharmaceutical firm E. Merck, and the story of a half-brother Niko never knew.
With surprising revelations from never-before-published family letters, diaries, and photographs, Endpapers is a moving and intimate family story, weaving a literary tapestry of the perils, triumphs, and secrets of history and exile.
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, he lives with his family in Vermont.
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