Review by Godelinde Gertrude
Annexed tells the story of the Secret Annexe – and beyond- through the eyes of Peter van Pels, “the boy who loved Anne Frank”.
This tremendously powerful premise would have benefited from a more balanced treatment and a more attentive editor: When this novel doesn’t work, it feels ham-fisted and the writing too fragmented and incoherent to be engaging; the repetitive phrases, overuse of full stops, simplistic language, Romantic veneration of the artist, and the error of “Zaandvoort” instead of Zandvoort are rather bothering. An audience who can deal with this subject matter and is expected to identify with a 16-year-old boy and his sexual awakening doesn’t need to be addressed in baby language. This may have been unintentional or perhaps reflects the stream-of-consciousness of a concentration camp inmate or how unspeakable the horrors of the Holocaust are, but it does prevent the reader from identifying with the characters.
However, what does work about Annexed is how suitably claustrophobic and nightmarish it is, its poetic language, awareness of nature (yeah, the tree is in there) and of course the terrors of WWII, especially in the second part (which owes a little too much to Primo Levi.) As a result, it’s not as glossy and as Hollywood-Holocaust as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
Additionally, it’s a great change from those ubiquitous vampires and zombies and it takes a huge amount of creative guts to tackle Anne Frank’s story.
However, Anne’s story is moving and tragic because she does not know what will happen, so that the reader also briefly forgets her fate, only to be shocked into awareness later on. Nothing as subtle here: Annexed immediately hits you on the head with Peter dying in Mauthausen. Therefore, I’d recommend reading the diary itself, and then visiting the Anne Frank house; if you by then still don’t realize how lucky you are to be alive and free, you might consider reading this one.
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