Book Review: Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Everyone knows about Anne Frank and her life hidden in the secret annex – but what about the boy who was also trapped there with her? 

In this powerful and gripping novel, Sharon Dogar explores what this might have been like from Peter’s point of view.  What was it like to be forced into hiding with Anne Frank, first to hate her and then to find yourself falling in love with her?   Especially with your parents and her parents all watching almost everything you do together.   To know you’re being written about in Anne’s diary, day after day?   What’s it like to start questioning your religion, wondering why simply being Jewish inspires such hatred and persecution?  Or to just sit and wait and watch while others die, and wish you were fighting. 

As Peter and Anne become closer and closer in their confined quarters, how can they make sense of what they see happening around them? 

Anne’s diary ends on August 4, 1944, but Peter’s story takes us on, beyond their betrayal and into the Nazi death camps.  He details with accuracy, clarity and compassion the reality of day to day survival in Auschwitz – and ultimately the horrific fates of the Annex’s occupants. (From Goodreads.com)

Like millions of others, when I read Anne Franks Diary at age Thirteen it changed something inside me and affected me like no other book since. I still remember how I felt when I’d finished it, how powerful, heart breaking, horrifying and inspirational I found it. When I first heard about Sharon Dogar’s novel, Annexed, told from the point of Peter Van Pels who spent 2 years hiding in the attic along with Anne I was curious. I wanted to read it but was nervous. How would a fictionalised account of a real person who endured such horrific difficulties come across? Would the author be sensitive and do justice to these people? The book was already causing controversy and I wondered how I would feel about it.

The answer to those questions is that in my opinion Annexed is a stunning and completely respectful novel. Split into two parts, the first is told in a loose diary that chronicles the two years spent in hiding. While the format is that of a diary, with dates given before entries, it comes across as more of a story than a recording of someone’s life. I think this is the right approach, as Sharon Dogar doesn’t portray her interpretation of Peter as fact. We can’t know what Peter felt, but she imagines him very well and his voice is astoundingly believable. We feel his frustration, the claustrophobia and fear in every word. The book has been accused of being overtly sexualised and I have to disagree. Peter is sixteen when he goes into hiding and thinks about the girl he loved outside, worries about never making love. This sounds completely realistic to me. We know that from initial dislike a relationship developes between Peter and Anne and of course this is something he thinks about. They are living in such close confinement that surely their feelings are intensified and the author gets this across without being distasteful or disrespectful. 

The second part of the book covers the period between capture on the 4th August 1944 and Peter’s death in spring 1945 where the diary format is lost completely and becomes an entirely fictional account of his time at Auschwitz based on survivor accounts and the author's imagination. Of course this is the most shocking and harrowing part of the book, despite knowing what is going to happen it never looses impact.  The writing in this section is stunning and powerful as Peter recalls the past while on the cusp of death in an almost dreamlike state. I cried and couldn’t sleep afterwards thinking about how truly horrific the world can and has been. And this is why this book deserves to be read and Sharon Dogar was right to create it. To make sure we never forget.

Annexed is a brave, powerful and heart-breaking novel and I can only applaud the author for taking on such a difficult subject and making it work. It should be read by every teenager as they study this period of history at school, and in some ways I believe it will give a greater understanding and be more accessible, particularly to boys, than Anne’s original diary. Some people believe that by fictionalising real life people from the not so distant past is wrong. I however think it keeps the memory alive and every now and then we need a book like this to remind us. As expected, a very difficult book to read but without doubt one that should be.

Published by Andersen Press September 2010
Thanks to the publishers for providing a copy for review.

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful review! I've got this one for review too, but haven't read it yet. Must get to it soon. It sounds like a very powerful read, but I know it's going to be a tough read too.

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  2. i thought this book was awesome too - fab review!!

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  3. There's an award for you on my blog :)
    http://booksandacupoftea.blogspot.com/2011/02/awards.html

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  4. I also felt for a fiction book from Peter's perspective that Sharon did a wonderful job and do not in any way feel that it was disrespectful. I also think you did a terrific job with your review of this lovely historical fiction.

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