Sharon Dogar’s novel, Annexed, presents the story within Anne Frank’s famous diary through a new, imagined perspective. Peter van Pels was the teenage boy who shared the Annex with the Franks and his parents. In this novel, Dogar tells the story of their struggle for survival through Peter’s eyes. This dramatic shift in point of view has the potential to influence readers’ perception of Anne’s story, and that fact is part of why there has been some controversy around the release of this book. You should take a few minutes now or later to read some of the opinions (1, 2), and then Dogar’s response. I hadn’t been aware of the discussion prior to reading the book.
I read Anne’s diary at least three times when I was young, beginning when I was twelve or so. It’s been a long time since I reread it. Dogar’s book made me want to do that, and I hope that this response is shared by other readers. I think I need to reread the diary in order to say definitively how I feel about Annexed. I don’t think that the characters – particularly Anne – come off with the same complexity as I remember in the diary, though the tone of the book often felt very much in line with the original work – tense, at times hopeful, full of frustration and barely suppressed fear.
One of the big objections that has been noted by some readers is that Dogar’s book is too sexy. I read somewhere an opinion that this version was just a sexed-up take on the diary. In my opinion, the sexuality was far from racy. I thought it was pretty understated, and believable. Peter’s longing is a big part of what makes this book have such emotional impact. What would it have been like to imagine that you might never be able to love someone for your whole life, never be intimate with someone? It was powerful – and real – that this character would feel tormented by this knowledge. I didn’t think that there was anything drawn out in this book that felt jarring next to the text that inspired it. Dogar offers us one possible version of Peter, and one that I think feels fairly true to the spirit of Anne’s writing. I think it’s important to remember that what we know of Peter through Anne’s diary is her perception of him. Who knows what he was truly like? I liked that Dogar raises this in her Preface. I don’t think Dogar was trying to pin Peter down in her book. A person – or character – that we come to know purely through words on the page can never be the complex being represented in a real, flesh and blood individual. Dogar notes, “The Anne seen in her diary is not necessarily the same Anne that the people in the attic felt they knew.” I don’t think readers should be afraid that Dogar is trying to say “This is who Peter was.” This is an imagined story, inspired by something true. The author is very clear on this point.
Could Dogar have written a book similarly powerful and thought provoking without using historical figures? She says no. She says that it wouldn’t have been as interesting. I’m not sure I agree. Great writing is great writing. I don’t think a character is more interesting or memorable because s/he was inspired by a real person or real events. Still, all in all, I found Annexed to be a bold, harrowing novel, sensitively written, particularly the second part, set in the camps. I hope it brings more people to Anne’s diary, surely one of the most affecting testaments to the power of words to unite people across time and circumstance.
Annexed is published by Houghton Mifflin
This post is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.