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Book Review: 'Address Unknown' Illuminates The Insidious Nature Of Fascism

Sometimes it’s the smallest books that pack the most powerful punches. Think George Orwell’s Animal Farm, John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. None are much longer than an average short story, but they tackle heavy themes such as communism, greed, and the struggle between good and evil.

Address Unknown is just such a work. First published in 1938, the 66-page novel by American author Kathrine Kressmann Taylor is, as The Guardian describes it: “the great, forgotten anti-Nazi book everyone must read.” A reissue of the novel this summer will undoubtedly have new readers discovering the tale, which recounts a friendship destroyed at the hands of Nazi Germany.

Address Unknown consists of a series of letters between Max, a Jewish art dealer in San Francisco, and Martin, his friend and former business partner who has returned to Germany just as Hitler is coming to power. Their exchange spans just 16 months but illuminates the dangers of fascism and shows how extreme ideology can be more powerful even than friendship.

An afterword reveals that the author was inspired to write the story after some German friends living in the United States returned to Germany and became sworn Nazis. “It was hard to believe that these people whom I knew and respected had fallen victim to the Nazi poison,” Taylor writes. “What worried me most was that no one in America was aware of what was happening in Germany and they also did not care.”

Address Unknown is a slim little novel, easily read in one sitting. Its message, though, about the pull of racism, the insidious nature of fascist movements and the power of the pen, is not easily forgotten.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.