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Are you ready for a ‘sexed up’ Anne Frank? ‘Anne-Xed,’ indeed.

June 22, 2010

Anne Frank

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?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Candice Simmons permalink
    June 22, 2010 1:29 pm

    As an 8th grade English teacher, I taught “The Diary of Anne Frank.” How very much easier this version would have been to get them to read. And yes, I would read it!!

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 22, 2010 2:42 pm

      I’d read it, too, though not without a bit of skepticism. Why wold this be easier to get your kids to read?

  2. Candice Simmons permalink
    June 22, 2010 3:01 pm

    Because 8th graders love anything sexy. Can you believe it???

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      June 22, 2010 10:27 pm

      No!

    • bookworm permalink
      May 7, 2011 12:47 pm

      speaking as an 8th grader i can tell its easier to get us to read annexed because its shorter the the diary of anne frank

  3. rachel permalink
    June 22, 2010 4:22 pm

    But I think, as noted in your blog, kids are already drawn to Anne Frank. The real one.

    I agree with Meg Rosoff. And it seems to me that Anne Frank would be a hard one to do right.

    I also find it a little offensive that she didn’t have a choice in the matter. Maybe she felt compelled to write the story, but writing and publishing are not the same thing. It’s your decision to let it go loose in the world.

    I don’t have much desire to read it. Not unless one of my trusted readers does first and tells me how wonderful it is.

  4. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    June 22, 2010 10:30 pm

    I’m not at all troubled by the sex aspect. Kids that age are coming into their sexuality, and I’m betting the sex stuff is a very small part of the book. What really bothers me, as you suggest, Rachel, is why can’t writers leave the classics alone?! I know there are exceptions — Wide Sargasso Sea among them — but for the most part I do not approve of the pastiche. While I don’t trust the Anne Frank Trust people — they sound like Disney, protecting its brand — but I did feel a pang of sympathy when the woman said, If you’re such a good writer, make up your own characters!

  5. Martha permalink
    June 28, 2010 8:52 pm

    Ok people-this is Anne Frank-you don’t take liberties with Anne Frank. She’s a symbol-a sybol of innocence in the most unimaginable circumstances. Why destroy that innocence?

  6. Jamie Gossett permalink
    February 15, 2011 10:13 pm

    revered is not a word that should apply to anyone, under any circumstances, dead or alive, famous or infamous, historical or otherwise, including church clergy. to revere is to worship and no human is worthy of worship. that being said, I don’t think that this book, in itself, is the problem if the author makes the point clear that it is more of a “what if” story than a missing person’s point of view that isn’t around to be questioned or give approval. The guy she is supposed to be intimate with that was hiding with her, if this book would be credible, should be able to give consent for their part and also Anne Frank may or may not would want that part made public. If it was purely a “what if” scenario and with a different group of characters in a similar situation, it might be ok. let’s read the book before we judge it.

  7. Dong Fapper permalink
    April 14, 2011 5:12 pm

    i’d hit it.

  8. bookworm permalink
    May 7, 2011 12:44 pm

    its a good book i love reading what if books and what did this caracter feel kinda things it may not be accuret but she says its not in the authors note so read the book not as fact because we really have no idea how peter felt read it as a what if?

  9. Sam permalink
    May 28, 2011 6:17 pm

    This is an interesting one – I’m currently doing a PhD, a chapter of which deals with the appropriation of Anne in the theatre! I’m in two minds as to whether or not I’d read this book or not…not out of any outright negativity towards it, but just looking at the different sides to the argument.

  10. shawn permalink
    August 18, 2012 5:42 am

    Being a young college student in the making. I come to find Anne Frank, and all of the Holocaust stories, more and more devastating. I understand people want to know more about Anne Frank, or they feel emotionally attached in a way. But books like these, in my opinion should not be published. Also, to see a 8th grader saying she should have made her kids read a more “sexy,” aspect of Anne Frank disgusts me. I’m not saying the writer of this book should be hated and what not, personally I just don’t want the young minds poisoned by all of this. To this day in the history books, it is to say 6million died in the holocaust, but people have done the researching and found this to be an exaggeration. Well, enough with my blabbering, as long as this book doesn’t get into the schools of our children, it’s fine with me.

    • shawn permalink
      August 18, 2012 5:45 am

      Sorry for the terrible mistakes. In line 5 I meant to say 8th grade teacher.

  11. August 28, 2012 12:49 pm

    I ended up this blog a couple weeks ago and I just can’t get enough! Please keep writing!

  12. August 12, 2013 12:29 pm

    how dare you change the book!some kids admire anne,she was a GREAT role model.if she wanted us to know more about her and peter,she would have wrote it!i think if kids read the ~annexed~ they will think of anne differently.i really lookup to anne,and i will always appreciate her couragessness.

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