Houghton Mifflin (Harcourt), Oct 4 2010, $17.00
In 1942, the Nazis continue to deploy the Final Solution. In Holland, brave Ditch hide Jews in their homes as the Nazis and local traitors hunt them down like animals. The van Pels and Frank families and others are hidden in an annex of an Amsterdam office building. Whereas optimist Anne keeps a dairy, fifteen years old Peter van Pels believes he is an artist with no canvas. He moans his fate. However, he also muses about God and observes his fellow rats scurry to survive. He thinks Anne is a child, but over the two plus years of intimate concealment, he begins to find he is attracted to her having moved on pass his infatuation with Liese. Over the next couple of years his interest changes as the Allies invasion of Normandy brings hope and a kiss of Anne makes him believe they and their fellow Jews have a future.
However, philosophical and mordant unlike Anne, his beliefs are affirmed when they are betrayed and taken away to various concentration camps. Now as he awaits death in 1945 at Mauthalsen concentration camp in Austria, he thinks back to the horrific war years when God chose to abandon his people.
This is a great historical fiction tale that uses The Diary of Anne Frank to tell the tale of life in the Annex from the perspective of Peter and limited historical record of what happened to him and the others (enhanced by Sharon Dogar) transported to deadly camps. Ms. Dogar captures the essence of Peter (at least from Anne’s viewpoint) and brilliantly fills in gaps especially in the last quarter of the book that makes up the Part 2 Diaspora. Except for the deniers, this is a super companion piece to the classic as the readers must never forget any ethnic cleansing even if it is painful to do so. Also for another perspective (based on NPR and not my read yet), the audience should consider Francine prose’s reflective look at Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife.