Are you ready for a ‘sexed up’ Anne Frank? ‘Anne-Xed,’ indeed.
I doubt Sharon Dogar realized how much the title of her novel, Annexed, would sound like a porn movie (“Anne-Xed!”). But that’s before she came under fire for “sexing up” the story of Anne Frank.
Dogar and her British publisher, Andersen Press, have rushed to defend Annexed, due out in the Fall in the U.K. and the U.S., after criticism emerged over the book last weekend.
Told from the point of view of Peter von Pels, another Jew hiding with the Franks, Dogar’s novel posits the two teens fell in love–and had some steamy intimate moments, even if they didn’t go all the way.
Buddy Elias, Anne’s only living relative, reportedly disapproves of Dogar’s novel — although Andersen claims he cooperated with the author and had “wished the book well.”
“Anne was not the child she is in this book,” Elias told the Telegraph. “I also do not think that their terrible destiny should be used to invent some fictitious story.”
The novel contains “graphic accounts” of Peter lusting for Anne, reports The Bookseller, as well as “intimate scenes” between the two, although a full-on sex scene was allegedly removed from the final version.
The Anne Frank Trust is even more outraged, with co-founder and executive director Gillian Waines, taking exception to the use of real people in a novel.
“I really don’t understand why we have to fictionalise the Anne Frank story, when young people engage with it anyway,” Waines told the Guardian. “To me it seems like exploitation. If this woman writer is such a good novelist, why doesn’t she create characters from scratch?”
That seems a fair question, and not only because the story of Anne Frank has come to symbolize the tragedy of the Holocaust for millions of readers worldwide — millions of readers who might take offense if Dogar’s version is tasteless or otherwise poorly done.
But Dogar offers a disarming defense for why she took on such a famous and sensitive story: As an author, she had no choice.
“The problem is that a writer doesn’t always choose what they write,” she said. “The idea of this book plagued me for 15 years. I tried quite hard not to write it, mostly because I had similar concerns; I couldn’t do it justice, I wasn’t sure it was legitimate, I didn’t believe I had the talent to portray the horror of the Holocaust. But sometimes stories just come and you can’t stop them.”
Dogar says Anne’s sexual awakening is less prominent in Annexed, much of which focuses on Peter’s life after the fugitives are discovered, than in Anne’s Diary. She hopes people will read the book and decide for themselves. “I’ve done my best with Annexed,” she added, “and it’s now for readers to decide whether or not I’ve succeeded.”
Of course, writers have always strip-mined the historical record with glee. Shakespeare’s history plays take enormous liberties with the facts. When I first read E. L Doctorow’s Ragtime, I was shocked at his cavalier mixing of real and made-up characters. But I’ve since come to appreciate Doctorow, and some of my favorite novels, from Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove series to Robert Graves’ classic I, Claudius to Hilary Mantel’s recent triumph, Wolf Hall, appropriate historical figures.
In the end, I agree with Guardian columnist Meg Rosoff, who concludes it’s okay to appropriate historical personages for fiction — but be sure you do it well.
What do you say? Should a revered historical figure like Anne Frank be fair game for novelists to make up stories about, even closely researched stories? What’s your favorite historical novel featuring real people? Would you read Annexed?