“While Annexed does not depend upon a prior reading of The Diary of a Young Girl for interest or understanding, readers of that book will appreciate the opportunity to see Anne Frank’s story given a benefit it could not have: hindsight.”—The Horn Book, starred review
“Annexed is a superb addition to the Holocaust literature, and should not be missed.”—School Library Journal, starred review
“In Annexed, Sharon Dogar has performed a remarkable feat: examining one of the 20th century’s most inspiring lives in a fresh, compelling way.”—SassyLibrarian.com
Readers met Peter van Pels in Anne Frank’s diary. Now, novelist Sharon Dogar imagines his story…
Everyone knows about Anne Frank, and her life in the secret annex—but what about the boy who was also locked away in the attic? In Annexed (October 4, 2010; Houghton Mifflin) author Sharon Dogar imagines life in hiding at Prinsengracht 263 from a teenaged boy’s point of view.
On July 13, 1942, Peter van Pels and his family go into hiding with the Franks. He’s almost sixteen, with all the emotions and feelings that entails. Unlike Anne, he retreats from the other occupants, staying in bed and refusing to accept their new reality. Unlike Anne, he doesn’t have a diary to help him organize his thoughts. He misses his girlfriend Liese; feels frustrated by his inability to act; is confused by his growing fondness for Anne and her ultimate decision to choose her writing over their relationship. Unlike Anne, he questions whether being a Jew is more important than survival.
Through Peter’s eyes, readers see another version of those two years and one month in the attic, another view of Anne, Margot, Miep, Otto, and Fritz. Anne Frank’s diary ends on August 4, 1944, but this novel takes readers further, beyond the betrayal of the people in the Annex and into the Nazi death camps, describing the reality and horror of day-to-day existence in Auschwitz, the death march to Mauthausen, and ultimately the terrible fates of all of the Annex’s occupants.
“Is anybody there?” Peter cries from the depths of his despair in the camps. This book forces readers to listen and to face the dehumanizing actions of our past. “One can never really know what others will find in the books one writes; I hope it makes people ask questions of themselves, and keeps alive the need for us to go on exploring why the Holocaust happened,” Dogar says of writing this compelling and disturbing novel.
Sharon Dogar read Anne Frank’s diary many times as a child and then again recently when her own daughter began to read it. In writing Annexed, she spent many hours reading about and researching Anne Frank’s life, the Annex, and the Holocaust. The book includes an Epilogue which details the fates of those who hid in the Annex, an author’s note, and a list of resources for further information.
Dogar is a children’s psychotherapist who lives in Oxford, England with her family. This is her third novel.
A conversation with Sharon Dogar, author of Annexed
How old were you when you first read Anne Frank’s diary? You say you related to her – how?
I first read the diary when I was twelve years old. My father was an immigrant to the United Kingdom and my mother was from England. Mixed marriages were unusual at that time and in Anne Frank’s diary I found a way of thinking about my feelings of difference; a template, perhaps, for not allowing other people’s perception of me to curdle my own view of myself. I learnt that being young, culturally different and female didn’t mean you couldn’t be intelligent and visible, as well as long to be writer.
What inspired you to write Peter’s story?
There are so many reasons why, I’m not sure I know how to separate them all out. It began with a fascination with Anne’s diary itself, and from that grew a sense that I wished I knew more about the other people in the annex, especially Peter. Reading the diary as an adult and a therapist, I was fascinated by the idea of different interpretations. For example, initially Anne sees Peter as a self-obsessed hypochondriac but to me he came across as a depressed teenager and one who might be turning his feelings into physical symptoms. On another level I was responding to my (and my daughter’s) teenage self, in that I had always wondered what happened after the annex and thus began my own journey into learning about the holocaust as a teenager. Once I’d started researching the story I became lost in the horror of the holocaust and the desire to portray it in a way that was both truthful and as accurate as possible – as well as respectful.
All those teenage boy feelings – depression, angst and love – you captured so well. I had to keep remind myself that the author was a woman. How did you do that?
I wish I knew because then I’d be able to conjure it up at will! I can tell you how I try to make it happen. I sit at my desk and write and write and write in the hope that at some point the ‘character’ will begin to speak for him or herself. I try to live with them inside of me, to carry them with me and imagine what they might do or say in any given situation. Sometimes they come alive and sometimes they don’t. With Peter this happened almost immediately, it was like opening a door and the sea rushing in, it was all I could do to write fast enough. The first draft of the book only took four months. The editing process took another two years.
Why Peter’s story, Peter’s point of view? Why not Margot, for example? What made Peter’s story so compelling to you?
In some ways Peter’s quiet thoughtfulness can be seen as a gift to a writer; it allows for so much interpretation, but then again, so does Margot’s personality. I’m not sure why Peter spoke to me so powerfully, I think it’s partly that I always wanted to be a boy as a child, and also that I understood somewhere inside of myself that being male and in hiding might entail a more physical sense of loss; something that Anne may not have felt so acutely (at least not at the beginning) and that I was interested in exploring.
How did you begin your research?
With the diary itself, and then with firsthand accounts of the camps.
Peter and Anne start their relationship much like a brother and sister, but it soon evolves into more. How did you approach this facet of their relationship while writing the book?
I began to write the book and waited for the characters to come alive. If they don’t the book is never finished; if they do then the story takes on a life of its own. Any thinking about how to approach different aspects of the novel comes afterwards. I did work on certain aspects of their relationship in the editing process because I was aware of how sensitive an issue it might be. Ultimately I decided not to go beyond the confines of Anne’s own text, although Peter, of course sees it all from his own point of view. The most fascinating parts of their relationship for me lay in thinking about whether they would have even noticed each other outside of the annex, and the apparent tension within Anne between her teenage hormones and her desire to write.
Annexed deals with powerful themes and one of the most horrific times in world history. How did you approach the subject with a young adult audience in mind?
I didn’t. I don’t believe young adults need to be protected as much as they need to be exposed (with gentleness if possible) to the reality of the world in all its forms; good, bad and ugly. Anne never hides or pretends and I took my lead from her. She was remarkably intelligent, imaginative and compassionate, as well as honest. She never patronized her readers, and I tried to do the same. I don’t have her raw talent or brilliance, but I do have the same respect she has for her readers at all times as equals.
What do you hope readers will take away after reading Annexed?
In my dreams they close the book with tears in their eyes. Of joy, as well as sadness; but far more importantly than that, I hope they read more, learn more, go beyond the book, and into their own researches.
Are Anne and Peter still in your mind?
Yes, Anne and Peter are still there, but far less so. I do miss that feeling of ‘working with’ Peter. I think about both of them often, as well as the others in the annex, but I also feel that the job is now done. The story is told and I hope that ‘my’ Peter will come to life in the minds of others.
What do you read in your free time?
I read almost anything and everything. I’ve always been a fairy indiscriminate reader, but as I get older and more aware of time I find I have less patience for books that are badly written or anything that don’t at least make some attempt to engage the reader. I do read history, especially Tudor history, and yes, I am always thinking about ‘the other side’.