Friday, January 20, 2012

Annexed by Sharon Dogar

Annexed is a fictionalized imagining of the content in the diary kept by Anne Frank in hiding, but this time life in the annex is told by Peter van Pels.

And I have to admit I started reading Annexed with a great deal of trepidation.  After all, it had caused quite a sensation when it was published.   Sharon Dogar was accused exploiting Anne’s diary and of ‘sexualizing’ her.  There were many who did not want to see this Anne Frank.  But, while the Anne of the diary may be a symbol of courage and hope, the real life Anne, as we know now know, was much more human, a teen who could be self-centered, demanding and highly critical of those around her one moment and sweet, charming and full of confidence the next.  And who also thought about love and sex.  In other word, Anne Frank was a typical 13 year old adolescent.  And, to her credit, Dogar has captured this human version of Anne so well in Annexed.  
But now, it is Peter van Pels’s turn to tell his story. The real Peter was only 15 years old when he disappeared into the annex.  In this imagined version, Peter is at first portrayed as angry, sullen and resentful, not wanting to go into hiding, especially not with Anne Frank and her family.  But after witnessing his girlfriend and her family being rounded up by the Gestapo, he realizes it is the only real option left to him.
Once he is inside the annex, Peter just wants to sleep.  Everyone there gets on his nerves, especially the always cheerful, constantly talking, sometimes critical Anne.  But gradually he gets up and starts participating in life in the annex.  At first, Peter, Anne and her sister Margot spend a lot of their time together in the attic, but gradually an attraction begins to bloom between Anne and Peter, much to the disapproval of the adults around them, particularly Anne’s parents.
But as curious as Peter and Anne are, this relationship doesn’t go beyond some cuddling and a kiss.  It is all in the diary and Dogar has not added anything to it except Peter’s feelings.  Dogar makes it clear that this fictionalized Peter, like Anne, is afraid of missing out on an intimate relationship with a girl because of the circumstance under which is now lives.
Annexed is written in two parts.  The first part covers daily life in the annex.  Each chapter begins with a date and a one line description of what is going to happen, yet Dogar doesn’t seek to imitate Anne’s diary doing this.  This part is interspersed with Peter’s thoughts as he lay dying in Mauthausen’s sick bay and this gives the impression that he is reflecting on his life in the annex. The second, much smaller part of the novel takes place in the camps - Auschwitz and Mauthausen.  It too is told reflexively at Mauthausen. 
I thought that Dogar’s portrayal of Peter is completely believable.  He probably was, after all, a teenage boy with all the fear, anger, frustration and resentment of hiding and being confined simply for being a Jew, as well as all the thoughts, urges and questions about girls, love, and sex that boys have at the age.  
Sadly, no one knows who betrayed the people in the annex.  It could have happened any number of ways.  Dogar does intimate that the betrayal and a break-in may be linked, but that is all.  It remains a mystery even today.  
All in all, I thought Dogar did a great job in imagining the the annex from Peter’s point of view.  And it is important to remember Annexed is a fiction, even though it feels so real a times.  Perhaps because there are so many parts of the story that are more obviously taken from what Anne had written in her diary.  Which is not to imply that Dogar simply rewrote the diary.  Peter is his own person in the novel.  But I do think it is important to read Dogar’s afterward, to see where she has taken poetic license and why.
Most important, I feel that Dogar remains respectful of Anne Frank’s memory as a hero of Holocaust, and reminds us that everyone in that annex is a hero, too, in their own way. But she doesn’t let us forget that they were also human, and heroes are always more heroic when we remember that they are only human. 
This book is recommended for readers age 14 and up.
This book was borrowed from the Webster Branch of the NYPL.
Some excellent lesson plans for teaching Annexed can be found here.     

Sharon Dogar
Houghton Mifflin
341 Pages


  1. Great review Alex. It must be horrendous for a 15 year old to be stuck in a room for G-d knows how long.

    Do you think one should read Anne Frank's diary first or is this a standalone book?

    1. you could read this book first

  2. I think this could be read alone, but it might be a good idea to read the diary and then this book. Even if you haven't read the diary in a long time, it would come back to you are you read Annexed.

    No, I have often thought about the people in that annex and I don't know how they managed to do it for more than 2 years. It is amazing, but when your life is on the line, I think you find the strength.

  3. Wow - I hadn't heard of this. I wonder if the idea was to make the story more "boy" friendly?
    Such a horrifying moment in our history as human beings.
    Thanks for the review, and for participating in the 2012 Comment Challenge!

  4. I haven’t wanted to read this but I may just give it a go now. Thank you for the excellent review of Night by Elie Wiesel, it’s another book I probably wouldn’t have read, but I’m so glad I did.

  5. I read Annexed last year as you might remember and blogged it here.

    I very much love this book and am glad to hear your response to it.

  6. Lee, this might actually be a pretty boy friendly book, I am sure there are things that a boy could identify with in it. It was indeed an horrible moment in out history as human beings.

    Barbara, I am glad you read Night. It was such a poinant book. So is Annexed in its own way.

    Joyce, I do remember reading your excellent review of Annexed. I did like this book very much and I'm a little annoyed at myself for postponing reading it, but glad that I have now.

  7. I confess my initial response to WWII books is resistance because I feel saturated with them. It took me a long time to read The Book Thief, but, like so many others, I loved it and pick it up to re-read parts for inspiration.

    Now, you've sold me on this one. I like reviews that go into some depth and contain personal opinions. I don't find reviews easy to write. You're good!


  8. I would have a hard time reading this book, that is until I read your post. Sounds like a great read for boys.