Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flowers in Het Achterhuis?

Jezebel is self-righteously fuming about an allegedly sexy new book about Anne Frank, Sharon Dogar's Annexed, being published in this country in October by Houghton. Sadie, the Jezebel columnist, does not seem to remember Anne's diary very well ("If you've read the original diaries, you'll recall that Anne and Peter's relationship consists of a lot of talking, a growing affection, and a chaste kiss"), which was Twi-lite steamy in its original published version, and even more so in subsequent unexpurgated editions.  More to the point, Sadie hasn't even read Dogar's book but feels free to fulminate against it because it portrays Anne and fellow hider Peter van Pels having sex.

Except--spoiler alert--that it doesn't. Dogar's book, which I'll be reviewing in the September issue of the Magazine, is a daring and intense version of the Anne Frank story told from Peter's point of view. It's quite a tightrope act--while Dogar freely speculates on what Peter may have said and felt and done, she does so while keeping Anne's diary alive, well, and uncontradicted. Unlike Sadie, Dogar clearly read before she wrote.

22 comments:

Elizabeth Law said...

If only! At Egmont we were underbidders on Annexed--we tried to acquire the novel because we liked it quite a bit, too. I thought it was brilliant to see what living in the attic was like from someone else's point of view--and I thought the author clearly knew the diary very, very well.

I had a couple of editorial comments I would have liked to raise with the author about the novel, actually, but when we import a book from Britain the author usually doesn't take kindly to having to do a whole second rewrite of his or her manuscript. My point is, though, that even after closely reading and considering for publication it never ocurred to me that someone would have trouble with the sexual tension between Peter and Anne. I guess after 25 years in the business I should finally learn once and for all that adults will always act shocked at the content when they finally pay attention to a YA novel--even if they don't actually read it.

Elizabeth said...

I guess it would have been more accurate for me to say "I thought it was brilliant to see what living in the attic *might have been like* from someone else's point of view. I mean, it was very clear I was reading fiction! Ah, these controversies generated by people who haven't read the book are always so tedious.

Liz B said...

If you read the original Telegraph UK article (based on The Sunday Times article) that got Jezebel going, the statement that got them going (and that, frankly, I'm not too big a fan of myself): "Charlie Sheppard, editorial director of Andersen Press, the publisher, said that Dogar “feels they had sex, but this was taken out from an earlier version”.

So, no, it's not in the published version. It is a quote from the UK publisher about an earlier draft.

Lyle Blake Smythers said...

After reading the comments on the Jezebel site, I feel strangely conflicted. The actor and writer in me want to say that freedom of artistic expression takes precedence over both historical accuracy and good taste. The reader in me, who takes an interest in history, wants to know which parts really happened and which ones are made up (I always read author's notes when they are available). The librarian and sometime book reviewer in me want to know if it's done well, if it works as a piece of literature. As with any other controversial book, I want to take the lapels of those people using words like "vile" and "outrage" and say calmly, "If you don't think you'll like it, don't read it."

Lyle Blake Smythers

Anonymous said...

Huh. There's a line between Holocaust story and tragedy porn that I don't want to cross, so I doubt I'd pick this book up.

There's another line between saying "I don't think I want to read this book" and saying "No one should."

I don't think Jezebel crossed that line. I think she asked WHY anyone would want to read this book. I'm looking forward to your review. I'd love to see a discussion of the ethics of Real People Fiction in the Horn Book. This isn't the same as taking the main character of Catcher in the Rye and aging him fifty years for your sequel. This is a real person, of whom living people have cherished memories and Dogar has invented a fictional characterization for him to suit her purposes. Okay? Not Okay?

Roger Sutton said...

The line Jezebel crossed was the one between having an informed opinion and editorializing based on a false assumption. I don't think there is anything in Dogar's book that contradicts what people know about Peter from Anne's diary--she very carefully colors within the lines. And, Lyle, there is an excellent note about what's fact and what's fiction.

Anonymous said...

I don't think so. Jezebel said she hasn't read the book and she doesn't know why anyone would want to. I think that's an opinion and I don't see why she shouldn't broadcast it.

As for contradicting what people know about Peter-- people don't know anything about Peter, do they? Except for a few people still alive who knew him. Dogar can cast him as a saint or as a jerk just as easily and still make it mesh with Anne's diary. Of course, it's fiction and readers know it's fiction, and there are very few people left to be offended that this real person who died horribly, is being used once again for someone else's purpose, but damn it makes me uncomfortable.

With some books, I ask myself if I want to be a part of the business of making this story and consuming it. I might not want to have any part of this story. I'll see what your review says about it.

Why did Dogar need to make it Anne Frank Fan Fiction? Why couldn't she generate her own characters? Just how fast and loose can you play with the lives of real people? Is it reasonable for people to be distressed when you are making up stuff about their relatives? Once everyone who knows a person has died is it okay? Is it fair to your audience, especially if your intended audience is young?

Isn't Dogar saying "this is my best guess at how things went down?" Won't people read it that way because she chose to use these people? IS it Dogar's best guess at how Peter felt and thought? Or is it just a story that doesn't pretend to offer a viewpoint on real life?

Sorry to ramble.

Roger Sutton said...

Except that Jezebel being outraged because of the sex scene in Annexed is like me taking offense at Henry Huggins giving Beezus Quimby a hickey.

Liz B said...

Well, the thing is that Henry Huggins and Beezes Quimby are not real. They are characters in works of fiction.

Roger Sutton said...

Actually, Liz, the thing is that Henry and Beezus never made out, however much I would like to be outraged that they did. My point is that the Jezzies are blaming a book for something it does not say. That's not the same thing as believing one should not write fiction about historical figures, or that any novel about Anne Frank is Holocaust porn. I don't agree with either of those viewpoints but they are defensible. Trashing a book for saying something that it isn't saying is not.

Elizabeth said...

Anon 12:40:

Again, as someone who has read the book in question, no, I don't think Doggar is saying "This is my best guess at how things went down." Not at all. That would be a historian's book to write, wouldn't it? Annexed is a novel, that reads like a novel, and I didn't for a minute think I was really knowing the "real" person who lived in the attic. However it did cause me, as a reader, to think about things I hadn't thought much of before, like how might the Franks have appeared to the Van Pels? What might it have been like to view Anne not as she saw herself? What if you were a hormonal teenage boy, with a girlfriend "outside" who you long for,forced to go into hiding with a bunch of mostly adults?

Roger doesn't mention it, but the novel's preachy framing device (which I personally found unfortunate) of Peter remembering his time in the annex as he lays dying in the sick bay of Auschwitz serves as another clear reminder to all of us that the novel is a made up story of what it might have been like to be another character in the story.

Colleen said...

I'm with Liz on this one - Jezebel went with the quote from the publisher and hearing someone say they thought Anne Frank had sex and it was removed from her diaries is beyond weird to me. How could anyone possibly think they know this? And why on earth would the pub say that if it wasn't an issue with the book?

And I don't get you on the Henry & Beezus comparison either, Roger - Anne Frank isn't just a historical figure, she is one of the towering historical figures of the 20th century. Any book about her is big news and Dorgan knew it and if her pub is throwing out the sex card here then the cynical side of me thinks he is delighted by any drama that follows.

It's not so much that this contradicts what we know of Peter and Anne - it's that we don't know anything about what Peter thought. Frankly I'm surprised that you are surprised that some folks are bugged by how the UK pub is characterizing this book.

Roger Sutton said...

Could someone show me where Jezebel got the idea that Anne and Peter had sex (in Dogar's book)? In the Independent article, there is a confusing quote from the Brit publisher that "Dogar feels they had sex, but this was taken out from an earlier version." The confusion is evidenced by the fact that you, Colleen, and Liz have two different ideas of what that quote means, whether it refers to Anne Frank's diary or Dogar's manuscript. But in neither case does it say that there is sex between Peter and Anne in Annexed, and that is what Jezebel is claiming. Peter and Anne do not have sex in this novel, although the longing for it is definitely there. Just as it was in Anne Frank's published diary.

(I think people forget how sexy that book is when you are thirteen years old.)

Colleen said...

I read the diary at 13 (and several times after) and never thought it was sexy. (Certainly not like Judy Blume or even like Madeleine L'Engle's books.). I thought it was awful and tragic and horrifying and it bothered me a lot back then and still does today.

Here's the verbatim from the Jezebel article:

If you've read the original diaries, you'll recall that Anne and Peter's relationship consists of a lot of talking, a growing affection, and a chaste kiss. However, Charlie Sheppard, editorial director of Andersen Press, which is publishing Annexed, said that Dogar "feels they had sex, but this was taken out from an earlier version." Based on this gut instinct, Dogar has taken the liberty of reinstating sex between the teens - a logistical as well as a creative challenge, one imagines - even as she concedes that the consummation is "pure conjecture."

Dogar's argument is presumably based on the fact that Otto Frank, Anne's father, edited the diaries for publication. However, even were that by some chance the truth, Frank's surviving cousin, who's seen the novel, claim she gets other things wrong. Says Buddy Elias, "Anne was not the child she is in this book. I also do not think that their terrible destiny should be used to invent some fictitious story. From what Otto told me about Peter, he was very shy but in this book he is given a character he did not possess."


Okay, to my read of this (and the pub's statements that Liz mentions) I get that the author thought Peter & Anne had sex. (The pub says that and unless he's lying it's pretty straightforward.) The only reason she would think this (and knowing Anne's father edited the diaries as this has been common knowledge for decades) is if she thinks it was in the diaries and then removed. (I suppose you could say they did it and Anne never wrote it but she wrote everything else.) That was what I thought. I might not have written it as clearly earlier, but it's what I think. This novel includes the author's supposition of sex between the two main characters. (Even though she might not have written the scene in, she thinks it occurred.)

At the end of the day though the whole Jezebel article is based on what the publisher said and the publisher had no reason to say Dorgan ever thought a single blessed thing about Anne & Peter having sex unless he wanted the world to know that. And again, the cynical side of me says he's delighted by all the furor.

Now, even if the book doesn't have them full on naked going at it (I'm exaggerating here) Jezebel raises the question of is this something anyone should ever think or write about Anne. Meg Rosoff has an interesting take on that, basically saying that as long as you write well, you can certainly write anything about any historical figure you choose to (and she cites Shakespeare among others as examples). But...she also writes that people don't have to like it and that's what you're seeing here.

The whole thing creeped out the Jezebel writer and it creeps me out too. I've read the diary many times and never came to the same conclusion as Dogar - the fact that she made such an intuitive leap at all (whether it was in the final book or not) strikes me as decidedly odd. That's just my opinion but knowing she thought this makes me less inclined to read her book in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Dogar told The Sunday Times she did not want to discuss the book in detail. She said it was “pure conjecture” that Anne and Peter ever made love

--from the Telegraph


I could easily read that as Dogar saying that the sex she put in her book between Anne and Peter was, of course, pure conjecture.

Now that you say that there's no sex in the book, I read it differently, but I can't fault Jezebel for their take on it.

And I agree with Colleen that the publisher is doing their best to make it all about teh sex, even if there isn't any.

Anon 12:40

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth,

However it did cause me, as a reader, to think about things I hadn't thought much of before, like how might the Franks have appeared to the Van Pels? What might it have been like to view Anne not as she saw herself? What if you were a hormonal teenage boy, with a girlfriend "outside" who you long for,forced to go into hiding with a bunch of mostly adults?

I see your point. But I can't yet see the justification for using Anne and Peter Van Pels to accomplish this. She could have used fictional characters that echoed the Franks and Van Pels without claiming to represent them, but then it would have been just another Holocaust story. Dogar has to have really really hit the ball out of the park for me to think that this is anything but trading on a tragedy.

Anon 12:40

Monica Edinger said...

I suggest all who have concerns about this book read it before weighing in about it. (Jezebel too). I have and it was clear to me that Dogar had the best of intentions in giving Peter, whom we know only through Anne, a voice of his own. It is definitely not sensationalized. While I admit I'm highly discomforted by this particular attempt to get into the head of a real person who may have never wanted that (as the Holocaust is my family history and the diary a touchstone text for me) I respect Dogar's right as an artist to do so. (Roger, I have to disagree about the back matter. I would like something about Peter's family. There are absolutely none left? No cousins? No relatives of any sort? I've got third cousins galore still in Germany. One represents my immediate family for my great grandfather's foundation in Frankfurt.)

Monica Edinger said...

Roger,

Sorry, just reread all the comments and see you were remarking about the fact/fiction clarification Dogar makes, not the rest of the back matter.

Wendy said...

I wonder whether it would really be better if this book was about disguised versions of Anne and Peter, or would people just be saying "if she wanted to write about The Secret Annex from Peter's point of view, she should have just done it and not pretended she wasn't".

I share some discomfort with the whole concept of "using" Peter and Anne. No issues with any sexual content; I agree with Roger, the diary IS sexy, and I think what with Anne being conscious of writing parts of her diary for an audience, it's not crazy to wonder if other things happened outside the lines. (That line about "we don't sit miles apart", for instance.)

I was most annoyed by this bit from Jezebel: "Anne Frank's diary is a genuine and beautiful piece of writing purely because of its authenticity." That's pretty dismissive of the actual quality of Anne's writing as writing.

Roger Sutton said...

Remember, Colleen, that "based on this gut instinct, Dogar has taken the liberty of reinstating sex between the teens - a logistical as well as a creative challenge, one imagines," is all Jezebel, not something we can trace to something said by the author or publisher or anyone else. That's the leap they shouldn't have taken without being sure of their facts.

I do hope people will give this book a chance. I don't think it would work nearly as well had it "disguised" Anne and Peter; Dogar's book is profoundly connected to Anne's and careful not to step on it. There are a few moments when Peter asks Anne "not to mention this in your diary," but it's not a device Dogar uses to allow her characters some sexy time; instead, it shows Peter's desire to have Anne to himself as himself, not simply as another subject she can use for her audience, whether the imagined "Kitty" or the wider public attention Anne desired for her writing.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone here read Dogar's debut, WAVES? It's fabulous. That alone makes me want to read ANNEXED.

brittleighbooks said...

I know this is late to the party, but I gave the book a chance. I loved the narration from the camps. Thought the narration from the Annex was engrossing a true to male teen. But at the same time it had a cognitive dissonance because I knew these were fictional words and feelings about a real person who could not defend himself. Particularly in light of Peter's conversation with Anne on 225:

" 'Do you know how it feels [being a character in your stories]? 'it's not deliberate. I don't think about it,' [Anne says.]...'it's on a page where it looks like the truth - even if it isn't!'...It feels like being stolen. [Peter says]'"

I don't feel like the Author's note or epilogue give me enough rationalization as to how Dogar is not stealing Peter, something she caused him to say was so very hurtful.