“A haunting what-if.” —Georgia Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones
“Not only a poignant reminder of all that was lost during the war, but a vivid, searching exploration of what it meant to exist in the aftermath.” —Jessica Shattuck, New York Times bestselling author of The Women in the Castle
From the author of City of Women, a powerful new novel that asks the question: What if Anne Frank survived the Holocaust?
Anne Frank is a cultural icon whose diary painted a vivid picture of the Holocaust and made her an image of humanity in one of history’s darkest moments. But she was also a person—a precocious young girl with a rich inner life and tremendous skill as a writer. In this masterful new novel, David R. Gillham explores with breathtaking empathy the woman—and the writer—she might have become.
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Lüneburg Heath
THE GERMAN REICH
She lies sprawled among the dead who carpet the frozen mud flats, time slipping past, her thoughts dissolving. The last of her is leaking away as the angel of death hovers above, so close now. So close that she can feel him peeling away her essence. Her body is baked by fever and ripped by a murderous cough; her mind is more animal now than human. She is numb to the bitter cold that has penetrated her bones. Thirst is gone, and so is hunger. She has passed through them on her way out of her body.
But from somewhere there is a loud pop, the anonymous discharge of a rifle or a pistol, and she can feel the darkness above her hesitate. The sound of the gunshot has grabbed its attention, and instead of collecting her final breath, death, in its forgetfulness, passes over her. And in that fractured moment, the world that would have been takes a different path: a flicker of the girl she once was makes a last demand for life. A breath, a flinch of existence. A small, tentative throb of expectation dares to flex her heart. A beat. Another beat, and another as her heart begins to work a rhythm. She coughs viciously, but something in her has found a pulse. Some vital substance. She feels herself draw a breath and then exhale it. Slowly. Very slowly, she pries open her gluey eyelids till the raw white sunlight stings.
She is alive.
Her One True Confidante
Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I've never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.
from her diary,
20 June 1942
. . . all Dutch Jews are now in the bag.
-Dr. Hans Bšhmcker,
Beauftragter des Deutschen Reiches für die Stadt Amsterdam, 2 October 1941
Residential Housing Estate
Two years since the German invasion
Anne gazes out the open window of their third-story flat in the Merwedeplein, her elbows braced against the windowsill. The sun is cradled in a sharp blue sky. The grass of the common is a lush green. It's a Sunday midday. Down below, a stylishly dressed wedding party is off to the magistrate's office, and Anne is absorbing the details with excitement because she positively adores fashion. The bride is modeling a well-cut suit with a tapered skirt and a felt hat. A wartime look for a bride, sleek and smart without the frills. She carries a generous bouquet of white roses. People peer from their balconies as the bride and groom process down the steps and pose for a movie camera as if they were film stars.
"Anne, get away from the window, please," her mother calls out. Unwilling to budge, Anne calls back over her shoulder, "In a minute!" She imagines herself in front of the camera one day, as a famous film star. Like Greta Garbo, or Priscilla Lane. She loves the films and film actresses, and it angers Anne more than almost anything that the Nazis have seen fit to ban Jews from the cinemas. After the war, though, who knows? She could become another Dorothy Lamour, followed everywhere by eager photographers.
Her mother grows adamant, correcting her in her normal singsong reprimand. "You should be setting the table for lunch. And besides, it's simply too unladylike for you to be there with your head stuck out the window like a nosy giraffe." Though Mummy herself cannot resist a discreet giraffe's peek, followed by a shallow sigh. "When I married your father, I wore a beautiful white silk gown with a long, long train," she reminds herself. "Decorated by the most charming little filigree of Belgian lace, specially imported."
"I'm never going to marry," Anne decides to announce at that instant, which leaves her mother blinking, utterly appalled. Really, Anne was just irritated and wanted to strike back at Mummy in some way she knew would sting. But her mother's expression is positively stricken, as if Anne has just threatened to jump out the window.
"Anne, but you must," she insists. "Your papa and I must have grandchildren."
"Oh, Margot can handle that," Anne assures her casually. "That's what firstborn daughters are for."
"Anne," her sister, Margot, squawks from the chair where she is paging through the book of Rembrandt plates, a gift from their omi in Basel. Her hair is combed back with a single silver clip holding it in place. Lovely as always, which makes Anne even madder. "What a thing to say!"
Anne ignores her. "I'm going to be famous," she declares. "A famous film star, probably, and travel the world."
"So famous film stars don't have children?" her mother asks.
Anne enlightens her, trying not to sound too superior. "They do if they want, I suppose. But it's not expected. Famous people live a completely different existence from most people, who are happy to live boring lives."
"Happy lives are not boring, Anne," her mother instructs her. Anne shrugs. She knows that Mother was sheltered by her upbringing. That the HollŠnders of Aachen were a religious family who kept a kosher household, were bent on respectability, and that any ambitions beyond marriage and family she might have harbored were eclipsed by the diktats of tradition. So she tries not to condescend too much when she says, "Maybe for some people that's true, Mummy. But for those who devote themselves to great achievements, it's different."
That's when her papa appears from the bedroom. Anne's dear Pim. Her dearest Hunny Kungha. Tall and lanky as a reed, with intelligent, deeply pocketed eyes and a pencil-thin mustache. Only a fringe of hair remains of the crop from his youth, but the loss has exposed a noble crown. He's so diligent that he's even been out tending to business on a Sunday morning. He still wears his skinny blue necktie but has changed into his around-the-house cardigan. "Hard work and dedication. That's how lasting fame is achieved," he informs all assembled.
"And talent," Anne replies, feeling the need to counter him in some way, but not unpleasantly. Pim, after all, is on her side. That's the way it's always been. Margot and Mother can grouse, but Pim and Anne understand. They understand just what kind of fabulous destiny awaits Miss Annelies Marie Frank.
"Yes, of course. And talent." He smiles. "A quality both my girls possess in great abundance."
"Thank you, Pim," Margot says lightly before sticking her nose back into her book.
But Mummy doesn't look so pleased. Maybe she didn't appreciate being left out of Pim's accounting of talented girls. "You'll spoil them, Otto." She sighs, a favorite anthem of hers. "Margot has a head on her shoulders at least, but our petite chatterbox?" She frowns, referring to who else but Anne? "It only makes her more insufferable."
Inside, daylight whitens the lace of the tablecloth as the adults cluck over their coffee cups and slices of Mummy's chocolate cake, eggless, baked with flax meal instead of flour, surrogate sugar, surrogate cocoa, and two teaspoons of precious vanilla extract, but still not so bad. Nobody has ever said Mummy isn't a resourceful cook. Anne has already gobbled up her slice and is sitting at the table hugging her beloved tabby, Moortje, while her parents converse in the muted, apprehensive tone they've adopted since the occupation.
"And what about those poor souls who have been sent to the east?" Mummy wonders. "The horrible stories one hears over the English radio."
Anne holds her breath and then exhales. For once she is only too happy to be left out of the adult discussion. She's often informed about how terribly unreasonable she can be, but would it be so unreasonable at this moment to go hide in her bedroom and stick her fingers in her ears? She does not want to hear any more about the conquering Hun and his atrocious behavior; she wants to pick out her birthday present.
She feels the excitement twitching in her body, so it's hard to keep still and sit up straight at the supper table. "Mother, can we use Oma Rose's sterling ware for my party?"
"Excuse me, Anne," her mother answers, frowning, "please don't interrupt. It's rude. Your father and I are having an important conversation. Unpleasant, perhaps, but necessary."
Pim, however, seems to be happy to remind them all in his gently pointed manner that one should not believe every rumor one hears. One must recall that there were stories of all manner of atrocities fabricated by the English about the kaiser's army in the last war. "Propaganda," he calls it. And shouldn't Mummy admit that he's the expert on this subject? He was, after all, a reserve officer in the kaiser's field artillery.
Mummy is not dissuaded. She is not convinced that the talk she has heard is all English fabrication. She believes that the Nazis have made Germans into criminals. "Look how Rotterdam was bombed," she offers. A defenseless city. And must she continue to enumerate the horrid slew of diktats imposed upon Jews since that Austrian brute Seyss-Inquart was installed as Reichskommissar the high, almighty governor of the German occupation?
Anne's father shrugs. Certainly it's no secret that since the occupation, Germans have been happy to treat Jews abominably. Decrees are enshrined weekly in the Joodsche Weekblad, the mouthpiece of the Nazi invader, published by what the Germans call the Jewish Council. Within its pages are the details of their persecution. Jews are forbidden this and Jews are forbidden that. Jews are permitted to do their shopping only between such and such times. Jews must observe a curfew, they are forbidden to walk the streets from this hour to that hour. Jews who appear in public are required to wear a yellow star of explicit dimensions sewn to their clothes. Pim, however, harbors sweeter memories of the good old Fatherland and makes allowances for Good Germans as opposed to Hitler's hooligans. "Edith," he says to his wife, pronouncing her name with a calm, intimate authority. A standard tone. "Perhaps we can table this," he wonders, indicating the children. But Pim is incorrect if he thinks that the mere presence of the children is enough to dissuade Mummy from her favorite subject: how she was robbed of the life she once led. She wants to know if it has slipped her husband's mind how much she was forced to give up, and she doesn't just mean visiting Christian friends in their homes. She means how much she's been forced to leave behind. The lovely furniture made from fruitwoods. The velvet drapes. The carpets handwoven in the Orient. The collection of Meissen figurines a century old.
According to the story she's so fond of repeating, their family once had a big house in the Marbachweg in Frankfurt and Mummy had a housemaid, though Anne remembers none of it. She was just a toddler when fear of Hitler caused them to flee Germany for Holland. To Anne their flat here in Amsterdam South is her home. Five rooms in this perfectly well-respected bourgeoisie housing estate in the River Quarter, occupied by perfectly well-respected bourgeoisie refugees of the deutschen jüdisches variety. The children have started gabbling away in Dutch, but for most of the adults settled here German is still the daily conversational vernacular. Even now the Frank household speaks it at the table, because heaven forbid Mummy be required to learn another word of Dutch, even though German has become the language of their persecutors.
Mother is seldom happy, it seems, unless she's unhappy. Anne suspects that when Oma Rose died, she took something of Mummy with her. A piece of her heart that connected her to the world of her childhood, a comfortable world of affection, warmth, and safety. But after Oma passed, Mummy seemed to lose all resilience. Perhaps the loss of a mother can do that to some people. At least Anne can pity Mummy for this. Anne, too, still mourns the loss of her sweet grandma, so she can try to imagine her mother's pain. But she doesn't dare imagine what it would feel like if she were to ever lose her papa. Her one and only Pim.
"Aren't we going to the shop?" Anne inserts this question with a quick, prodding tone.
"Please, Anne," her mother huffs. "Put down the cat. How many times must I remind you that animals do not belong at the table?"
Anne rubs her tabby's fur against her cheek. "But he's not an animal. He's the one and only Monsieur Moortje. Aren't you, Moortje?" she asks the little gray tiger, who mews in confirmation.
"Anne, do as your mother asks," Pim instructs quietly, and Anne obeys with a half sigh.
"I just wanted to know how much longer I have to sit here being bored."
"Bored?" her mother squawks. "Your father and I are discussing important matters."
"Important to adults," Anne replies thickly. "But children have a different view of the world, Mother. Based on having fun."
"Oh, fun, is it? Well, isn't that important news," her mother mocks her sternly, the line of her mouth going flat. "It's too bad that children like you don't run the world."
"I'll agree with that," Anne says. "Don't you agree, Margot?"
"There are other things more important than fun," her sister informs her." Now, that's Mummy.
"Your sister is sixteen," their mother explains approvingly. "She's not a child any longer."
Margot gives her sister a quietly dismissive shrug. "You just don't understand, Anne."
"I understand plenty, thank you very much. What I don't understand is why grown-ups take such pleasure in chewing over the worst of the world like gristle."
"Finish your brussels sprouts," her mother says, frowning.
Anne frowns back, her voice fizzling with dejection as she says, "I don't like them."
"Finish them anyway."
Pim breaks in gently, "Edith. Perhaps she can have more carrots."
Mummy quite definitely disapproves, but she shrugs. "Of course. By all means. Let her do as she pleases. It appears that children rule the world after all, Anne." To her husband she says, "It's only that one must wonder, Otto. It may all just be 'propaganda,' as you like to suggest, but one must wonder how many hungry Jewish girls there are right now in terrible circumstances who would give quite a lot for a plate of healthy food."
No answer to this. How could there be? Mummy takes a grim sip from her coffee cup as Anne quietly scoops a small helping of carrots onto her plate, isolating them from the abominable choux de Bruxelles. Pim exhales, releasing a breath of smoke from his cigarette. Again he suggests a change of subject.
Reading Group Guide
1. In Annelies, Anne and her father, Pim, often have a thorny relationship as they cope with the trauma of surviving the war in different ways. How would you describe their different approaches in attempting to rebuild their lives?
2. Perhaps the most famous passage in Anne Frank’s diary concerns her belief that people are basically good at their core. How do you think the novel Annelies addresses this? Does the fictional character Anne believe this to be true, even after her horrific experiences in the camp?
3. The relationship between the character Anne and the boy Raaf is fraught with contradictions and danger. Why do you think Anne propelled herself into this relationship?
4. How do you think the Jewish concept of tikkun olam—“repairing the world” and taking moral responsibility for the welfare of others as well as one’s own—helped Anne repair herself?
5. Anne feels a tremendous amount of guilt surrounding the death of her sister, Margot. Do you think her guilt is warranted? How well do you think the character Anne resolves her feelings of guilt by the end of the novel?
6. The real Anne Frank has become an international symbol of the loss perpetrated by the Holocaust, and a powerful voice of hope through her diary. In what ways has she become mythologized? Did reading Annelies change the way you thought about her?
7. Annelies focuses on how anti-Semitism was still very present in Europe despite the fall of the Nazi regime and the liberation of the camps. Did that surprise you? How is this aspect different from other World War II novels?
8. When you first picked up this book reimagining Anne Frank as having survived the Holocaust, what did you think of that starting place? Did your opinion change after finishing the book?
9. At the end of the book, the author includes a list of fictional letters from readers responding to The Diary of a Young Girl. How did you think the young letter writers in the book experienced Anne’s diary differently than we do?
10. This novel is based on real people and events. Did knowing that transform your reading experience? Do you read differently when characters are purely fictional?