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In Annexed, author Sharon Dogar imagines what life in the Annex with Anne Frank must have been like for young Peter. We know all about Anne’s thoughts and feelings, but surely Peter needs a chance to tell his side of things too. The novel begins as Peter is dying and looking back on his life, desperate to tell someone his story.
The first part of this book was really about 4 stars for me. It wasn’t anything hugely different from what I would have imagined, but it was nice to see a different perspective on the other housemates. Anne frequently used her diary as a place to vent, so we tended to see the worst parts of everyone. In this book, Mrs. van Pels is shown as a caring mother who frequently says inappropriate things to help draw attention away from shy Peter. She steals the Franks’ sheets to help him out too. His dad makes his awful jokes as a way to try to break tension. Mr. Frank is a wise, understanding mentor. Margot is inscrutable, but Mrs. Frank and Mr. Pfeffer are still pretty difficult to live with. Anne herself isn’t always easy to live with, with her high ideals and mercurial personality, but she always makes life interesting, even within the confines of the Annex.
The second part left me feeling shattered.
Anne Frank’s diary is a difficult read, because you do know how the story ends. But the diary just stops and, in the edition I read anyway, there was a very dry summation of what happened to the inhabitants of the Annex after their capture. If you’ve read any Holocaust literature at all, you can fill in the blanks, but it’s easy just to not think about it and feel sad that Anne didn’t live to make the mark she wanted to make on the world. (I’m not saying that she didn’t make a mark, I’m saying that she would have chosen to live and write more life-changing books)
This book takes us into the camps.
We follow the Franks and the van Pelses onto the trains and into Auschwitz. Peter is separated from the women very early on, so we don’t have to actually watch Anne suffer, but Peter spends a lot of time imagining what is going on with the women. He also tells us how hard life is, and we’re there with him as he loses his father and as he himself almost, almost makes it through. I finished this on a plane and it was all I could do to keep from sobbing. I conveniently hadn’t thought about life after the Annex, at least not much, but this book helped me mourn their loss.
Here are some quotes, both from the book and the extra material. These are taken from an advance copy and might have changed or been taken out of the final copy.
“As I write this, Anne Frank (if still alive) would have only been in her eighties. She might still be writing stories, still be reminding us of what it means to stay alive to the beauty of the world when all around you lies evidence of death, hatred, and destruction.”
“I find a satchel and a spare jacket with a star sewn onto it, but then at the last minute I decide not to wear it. If this is my last walk through the city I’m going to do it free–as me–and if anything happens, if they find me–then let them.”
“Today is the eighth of November. I’m sixteen….Last night [Mutti] came into my room. She didn’t say anything. She sat on the bed and held my hand. After a while she left. Sometimes there’s nothing that can be said.”
“Trains. A platform.
That was the beginning of our end.
It is hard to believe there was ever a before.
Or that there could ever be an after.
Is there anybody left?
Is anyone listening?“
“Because this is not a story. This is the truth. These things really happened.
This is what all of us here long for you, outside, to know.
That we went gently, most of us. We walked into the night of the camps in long lines not knowing where we were going. We went in trains, wearing all of our possessions like hope. Once, we were legion, now we are few.
Now our naked bodies lie in piles. Our bones are ground to dust and we are…ashes.
That is the truth“
“Now do you get it? This is what I did. This is how I lasted. For some of us survival was luck. No, for all of us it was luck. But for most of us it was because we learned to cheat and lie and steal and stand by–and watch while others were beaten and died.
In this way they etched their hatred upon us.“
“We are standing together. It is the day they took my father. I cannot speak.
‘What is left of him?’ Mr. Frank says. ‘The clothes that came back were not his, the number on his wrist was not his.’
‘There’s nothing left,’ I whisper.
‘You!’ he says. ‘You are what he has left. You will remember. You will survive. You will tell his story.'”
A recurring theme throughout the book is the German word, Wystawach. It means, “Wake up!” This is appropriate in so many ways. It woke me up to the horrible reality of the deaths of the Annex residents. This book, and Anne’s diary, are a wake up call to us to remember and honor those we have lost. They’re also a wake up call to remind us to be vigilant and prevent genocide and hatred. But we should also wake up and see the world around us. As the author wrote, we need to “stay alive to the beauty of the world.”
This might not be for everyone. Anne Frank is not presented as a perfect girl here, so that might offend some people. Also, Peter is a teenage boy. What do teen boys think about? You got it. He spends some time fantasizing about a girl he lost. It’s not graphic, and it doesn’t take up much space in the story, but it is there. To me, both these points add some realism to the novel. If you don’t like the ideas, you might want to stay away.
With the two caveats I listed above in mind, I absolutely recommend this as a companion to Anne Frank’s diary.