Recently I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time now. I ventured into the library that is literally down the street from the apartment I’ve lived in for the past year and two months and I finally got a library card. Sometimes making time for things like reading is a lot harder than it should be…because in my past I couldn’t survive without books, and having a library so nearby would have been a dream come true to past me, but current me found it a lot more difficult to find time to go.
Nonetheless, I was very excited once I finally had the library card in my possession, because now I was free to wander the aisles and peruse at my leisure…which is honestly one of my favorite ways to spend my time. I carefully selected three books that I wanted to check out, picking one fiction and two non-fiction. But you guys….I finish books insanely fast. It’s a problem. It took me about 4 days of reading in all my spare moments to finish Annelies by David R Gillham. This stunningly raw novel is a fictional imagining of what could have happened if Anne Frank had survived the Holocaust. Being a lover of historical fiction and of Anne Frank I absolutely had to read it and review it here on the blog.
The book begins describing Anne’s life before she goes into hiding, and briefly narrates the events leading up to and during their time as refugees and their eventual discovery and arrest. It also spends a few chapters detailing her time in the concentration camps and then what happens after she survives. The narration of this story told from the young Anne Frank’s perspective had a very well-written evolution from naive and starry eyed young girl to a hollow eyed, depressed survivor of the worst kind of brutality. This book definitely had it’s dark elements and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for anyone under 18 just because there were a lot of more adult subjects breached, especially in the aftermath of the event that changed her life.
I want to start by talking about what I liked about the book, and then I’ll go into my more controversial opinions. The writing was beautiful, and evoked the most vivid imagery, sometimes in unsettling ways. One of my favorite aspects of the story was how throughout the book at different moments Anne would see her older sister Margot who died in the prison camp Bergen-Belsen. A few simple sentences would describe Margot as being dressed in a dress she wore from their school days, or an ill fitting sweater from their days in hiding, or more often her prison rags and the dull look of death in her eyes. The two sisters would have full conversations, most of the time bickering back and forth, all the while it was only a figment of Anne’s imagination. It was haunting but did a great job of painting the regrets and grief she was plagued with, without actually stating what they were.
I also think that this book did a good job of painting mental illness in an understandable way. I just want to put in a few quotes to illustrate the eloquent depictions of her post traumatic mental state. This one, from when she is first reunited with her friend Miep after surviving the camp, “Anne has not been touched with affection for a very long time, and this embrace is so murderously joyful….It’s so rich that it might kill her on the spot, so she forces herself free.” and then when she is reunited with her father, “It should be a moment of pure bliss. But even now…she feels something terrifying that comes unbidden and unwanted. A bite of fury shocks her.”
In the wake of trauma, anger at the injustice of what she has experienced overwhelms her mind, and fury at the placid way her father wants to continue as if nothing happened consumes her. She becomes obsessed with discovering who betrayed her family, wanting to know how it happened. She becomes angry at her father and their relationship is strained, and she has a hard time trying to pick up and live a normal life again after all she has suffered.
There were quite a few embellishments made to this story for dramatic effect, which I discovered from reading the author’s note at the end. For example, in the story Anne’s father remarries to a woman named Hadassah Zuckert after the death of his wife who is entirely fictional, and who’s character is in constant friction with Anne’s because of her cold and bordering on antagonistic personality and Anne’s anger at everything. In real life, Anne’s father Otto Frank did remarry to a kind woman who was an entirely different person. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the addition of this character who wasn’t even real, and just served to add more angst into an already angst-ridden story.
Speaking of angst, there were so many dramatic, confrontational scenes between Anne and her father, as well as other characters, but particularly her father, that by the end of the book it started to get a little bit old. It seemed like she was flying off the handle at him every other second, which wasn’t necessarily what I had a problem with, it was just the fact that the author put so many scenes in that probably could have been condensed down to a total of four or five scenes and still had the same basic conflict. Towards the end the heaviness almost started to get to be too much because the same arguments between them were being repeated so many times. It served to make me feel like I was in a dead end relationship and get that frustrated feeling of having the same argument over and over, which if that was the author’s intention than they did a great job but I wasn’t a fan of it.
Overall, I would say that this book is definitely worth reading, if you are okay with overlooking some mild adult content. It’s a dark story, but brings a good awareness to the way that many people suffered during this dark time in history. I appreciate that because so many stories are told about what was suffered during the war and acts of bravery that were committed, but this was a compassionate telling of a story that probably applied to many souls who had to pick up and keep living after surviving hell. I think it is an important consideration of what Anne Frank could have gone through, and of what other girls probably DID go through in the aftermath of WW2 and the Holocaust. The writing painted a beautiful picture and made me feel so much empathy for what so many people went through. All in all, I think the message was that even though war or other tragedy may ravage our lives and change them forever, there is still value in life and we all have a responsibility to live out the life we have been given and do what good we can, as Anne does end up doing by the end of the book.
Sorry for the super long post! Hopefully this was interesting if you made it this far.