Address Unknown: the great, forgotten anti-Nazi book everyone must read

First published in 1938, US author Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s forgotten classic is a devastating work of political fiction that still resonates today

Some of the largest themes have been addressed in the shortest books. That is especially true in the realm of what might be called political fiction. The single best evocation of communism – and especially the distance between the ideal and the Soviet reality – remains George Orwell’s brief allegory, Animal Farm. In the same way, few works have conveyed the brutal nature of imperialism more effectively than Joseph Conrad managed in fewer than a hundred pages in Heart of Darkness. A third place in that small space on the shelf could be allocated to an even briefer work: Address Unknown, a story so short it can be read on a morning bus ride. Yet somehow it distils the essence of the ideology that, along with the other two, casts a deathly shadow over the 20th century. Across a few economic pages it touches the heart of the Nazi darkness.

Address Unknown was first published in Story magazine in September 1938, and then in book form a year later, becoming an instant bestseller. It has been translated across the world, adapted into a 1944 film and into multiple productions for the stage and radio – all under the name of Kressmann Taylor, after Story’s editor, along with Kathrine Kressmann Taylor’s husband, Elliott, decided it was “too strong to appear under the name of a woman”. The impact was immediate, the story credited with having “jolted America”, alerting it to the horror unfolding in Nazi Germany.

The story traces the contours of fascism – the leader-worship, the surveillance, the summons to men to act as men

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