Annexed by Sharon Dogar

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Annexed by Sharon Dogar

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: How was it for Peter? Sharon Dogar imagines life for Peter van Pels in the Amsterdam annexe with Anne Frank during WWII. There's been some controversy about this book, but Bookbag thought it was an intimate, thoughtful and absorbing novel.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Andersen
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1849391246

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There's been a bit of a kerfuffle over Annexed - the story of Peter van Pels, who shared the Amsterdam annexe with Anne Frank during World War II, who fell in love with the teenaged diarist, and who perished in a Nazi death camp called Munthausen in 1945. Sharon Dogar has been accused of sexing it up, disrespecting the too-recently deceased, and thrusting twenty-first century sexualised mores into a time where this sort of thing just didn't go on. So, on the one hand, I was very keen to read it and see what I thought.

On the other hand, though, I will confess that a tiny part of me thought Another Holocaust novel? Surely not. Sigh. Does this make me a bad person? After all, it's not quite the same thing as saying Another vampire novel? Surely not. Sigh, is it? But you know, there does come a point when we are treading the same ground over and over, and there's very little left to say. Dogar, however, puts me firmly in my place on that one in her preface:

We can keep on telling [the] story, keep on thinking about what it means to be human... try to keep the facts of what happened during the Second World War alive for each new generation, in the hope that they remain aware of how catastrophic the consquences of hate can be."

At a time when we're in danger of hating another religion with terrible venom, I am happy to concede that Dogar is right.

So, the book? I really liked it. It's compassionate and thoughtful, told in a very intimate way. I was thoroughly absorbed by it and I cried at the end. Dogar gets the claustrophobia of the annexe across brilliantly, as it escapes in pointless bickering and petty resentments, but the picture of vital, interesting people with hopes, dreams, loves and ambitions rises equally vividly from the pages. Peter himself is wonderfully drawn: painfully shy, introspective and independent of thought. As to the sexing up, it genuinely didn't feel anachronistic or inappropriate to me. Dogar's references - there is one to masturbation, another to fondling, and Peter worries that he will never make love to a girl several times - are always delicate and oblique, never crude.

Behaviour may well have been different in the 1940s, but this novel is about a boy who goes through puberty locked away in a tiny room in fear for his life. Is it really insulting to imagine him thinking about such things? I don't see why. Is it disrespectful? I don't see that. If we do want to keep this story alive so that succeeding generations make better decisions going forward, then the telling must be relevant. Adolescents of today need to experience it in a vicarious way, surely? The more Anne and Peter appear as strangers to today's adolescents, the less relevant they will feel. And that can't be a good thing. Annexed will fit well with the curricula they use now at GCSE in History too, which are much more interpretative and interactionist, and far less based on dry facts and endless data.

Despite the brouhaha, it's a recommendation by Bookbag for Annexed.

You can see Sharon Dogar talking about Annexed over at YouTube and the book has its own - absolutely fascinating - website with a timeline, biographies, videos and even teaching resources.

My thanks to the good people at Andersen for sending the book.

Morris Gleitzman's holocaust trilogy about Felix - Once Then and Now will break your heart but make you smile too. It's a stupendous achievement. Communists didn't fare well under the Nazis either, as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak so eloquently tells us.

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