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Annexed by Sharon Dogar
A few days ago, I wrote a research paper on historical fiction and the Holocaust for my PhD applications. I mostly discussed The Grey Zone, comparing it to its primary source and the play and film. But somehow the subject of Annexed came up–how it’s a highly controversial take on Anne’s life through a fictional lens. Told by Peter van Pels’ point of view, the book discusses his time in the camps and what it was like to fall in love with and live with Anne Frank.
I walked into this book cautiously, even though I was excited to read it. I had read excerpts from it and loved the writing, but was prepared to hate it because of reviews that denounced the book for being too sexually explicit.
As noted in my research paper, the book was denounced by the guardians of Anne’s diary because it was “racy”. Supposedly, Dogar wrote a scene in which Anne and Peter had intercourse, but I must have missed that scene. All there seemed to be in the way of sex was some heavy petting and some fantasizing on his part. All I can say to that is he was a 15-18 year old boy trapped in a small space with two girls his age. Obviously, his mind is going to wander to that–so I don’t understand the controversy over it, really. This may make it a book that you shouldn’t give to your nine-year-old, but anyone who has passed into the realm of puberty can and would relate to his feelings.
I think the argument represents just how iconic these eight people have become–matyrs and symbols of the Holocaust. To some degree, they are almost treated like saints. They were just regular people who hold a very special place in history. And I guess some people don’t like it to be tampered with and treat it almost like a Bible story. A fresh perspective is poo-pooed, even if it comes from accurate research.
I thought the book was, indeed, excellent. I hadn’t cried over a book in a long time, but Dogar’s book did just that. I guess because I’ve shied away from Anne’s story because of its level of sainthood, I hadn’t really looked at them as people. Dogar’s portrayal of both Peter and Anne are just so human and heartbreaking. I haven’t read Anne’s diary in a long time, but from what I remember, Dogar successfully captures her vigorous spirit and longing to write something “first-class” that will “change someone’s life”. And she did–just not in the way she’d hoped.
The ending is what particularly struck a chord with me. Dogar effortlessly captures the feeling of isolation and uses the tone to convey how forgotten people in concentration camps felt. Peter keeps asking throughout the book if we’re listening to him, a commentary of the attitude of people during the time period and a call to action for the people who need to be listened to today. Particularly heartbreaking was Peter remembering Anne encouraging him to tell his story, to find the words, even if they didn’t come easily to him. Dogar describes Anne as possessing a certain light, that Peter hopes went out painlessly and quickly upon her death–a metaphor for all of the children with hopes of the future who die at the hands of ruthless dictators before their time.
After letting the book sink in, I watched Anne Frank: the Whole Story, the 2001 Emmy Award winning mini-series based on Melissa Muller’s book. Even though Dogar’s book was historical fiction, it still gave me a more intimate sense of the characters and the movie impacted me in a different way than it ever had before.
Sometimes fresh perspectives help us see old stories in a new light. I think Dogar’s did just that.