Annexed by Sharon Dogar
It’s a brave author that takes a revered true-life text and then tells the same story from a different character’s point of view. Sharon Dogar has done so with her third teen novel telling the familiar story of Anne Frank through Peter van Pels’ eyes. Peter was the teenaged son of the other family that hid in that Amsterdam annex with the Franks and their daughters Anne and Margot.
Peter, now just eighteen years old, lies dying in the sick bay at Mauthausen camp, having survived the march from Auschwitz. He remembers his time in hiding …
But the memories persist; they push at the edges of my resistance. They spill.
There was a girl, wasn’t there? There was a place.
A place where the leaves fell like golden coins from a tree into the water as we watched through the attic window … and before that there was a home, a street, a world, a girl I loved …
Then we’re back with the sixteen year old Peter who is resentful at having to go into hiding. His girlfriend Liese and her family were taken, and lovesick Peter is overcome with longing for the girl he yearns to see again, but knows in his heart that she is gone. He’s doubly annoyed at being stuck with Anne too, whom he thinks rather silly. But gradually he overcomes his animosity and they become very close, but then he will lose her too.
Peter comes over as a typical teenaged boy – full of hormones, very self-concerned, struggling with wanting to be out doing things instead of cooped up. The author is very good at capturing this adolescent angst – but so much so that we never get to grips with rest of his family and the Franks apart from Anne. We never get to meet Miep either – who did so much for them on the outside and kept Anne’s diary safe.
Once they were betrayed and taken from the attic, the story leaves Anne and her diary behind, and becomes the imagined story of life in the camps. Otto Frank looked after him at Auschwitz, but Peter chose to march to Mauthausen thinking he had a better chance of survival – he died days before the camp was liberated. In this latter section, the text switches freely between past and present to give us a bleak picture about what it was like to survive there.
There is much to like in this ambitious novel, and the writing is good, but I felt it was too much in thrall to its primary source. Viewed as a coming of age story as much as a holocaust one however, teenagers may get a lot from it. Having previously read Sharon Dogar’s first novel Waves, which I enjoyed very much, I would certainly read more by this young author. (6.5/10)