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'The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank' is a truly heart-warming novel that asks the reader to think about the power of stories, the meaning of history and the possibility of coming to terms with an unbearable burden of memory.
The novel reflects on what might have happened if the boy in hiding with Anne Frank, Peter Van Pels, had survived the war and tells the tale of what might have happened.
The story is written with delicacy and intimacy and tells the compelling story of how Peter, leaving behind the ghosts of Europe, has reinvented himself in America, married and raised a family. The future at this point for Peter is all that matters, the past to him does not exist.
The life however that he has so carefully constructed is brought crashing down when 'The Diary of A Young Girl' is published. The diary of the girl he knew so well takes on a life of its own and before his very eyes Peter sees his own past being adapted, distorted and endlessly argued over, until the differences between his present and former self spark a crisis he cannot suppress.
In short this book is mere brilliance and is written with such compassion that is should not be overlooked.
More over the first page quotes "We have records of what happened to all the inhabitants of the secret annex except Peter" and the novel is so perfectly constructed that it could almost be true.
A superb novel in which the author delves deep into how it is the scars that cannot be seen that take the longest to heal and how some of them can never be healed.
must have been around 12 or 13 years old when I've read Anne Franks Diaries for the first time and ever since, when a new book about Anne or everything else that had to do with the secret annex and his inhabitants appeared on the market I had to read it.
Still I wasn't too sure about this one first, as it is purely fictional and therefore somewhat different to all the other books I've read before.
The hero of the book is Peter van Pels and if this name doesn't ring any bells then it is so for a reason:
Unbeknown to many readers Anne Frank has changed the names of the other people who lived with her during her time in the Hinterhaus.
The family van Daan's real name was van Pels, mother Auguste, father Herman and son Peter.
The dentist Dussel ( which is a rather rude choice of name by Anne as it could be translated as a milder version of idiot) was in real called Fritz Pfeffer.
The story behind the book:
Ellen Feldman is a New York based author. In 1994 she visited the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam.
During this visit a tour guide mentioned that records on the fate of all the inhabitants of the secret annex after their arrest on 04.August 1944 exist, except of Peter van Pels.
Ellen Feldmann was fascinated by the idea that Peter might have survived the Holocaust and decided to write a book about how his life might have turned out.
As soon as she started her research she found out that the tour guide had made a fundamental mistake: There is a dossier at the Dutch Red cross that Peter van Pels had indeed died in Mauthausen concentration camp on the 5th of may 1945, just 3 days before its liberation.
Ellen Feldman, decided that she still wanted to tell the story
and based the character of her book on a remark that the real Peter had made to Anne on 16.02.1944: That, if he should survive he would re-invent himself totally. That he wanted to emmigrate and nobody should ever find out again that he was jewish.
Peters story starts in 1946 when he arrives in New York. After an encounter with an anti-semitic Immigration-officer who mistakes him for a gentile he realizes how easy it would be to change his whole personality. ...he wouldn't even have to lie...all he had had to do was keep quiet...
He begins his new life in total denial of his old one, deletes every memory of it and that with such sufficiency that he finally is not able to remember any more.He never answers any questions about it and starts to live a lie.
His greatest fear is that anyone could find out that he is jewish but still he seems to be drawn to the jewish community. His best friend and later business-partner Harry is jewish, as well as his girl-friend Susannah who - ironically - breaks up with him as soon as she finds out that he is not. Her sister Madeleine helps him to get over the break-up, he falls in love with her and they get married.
His business is going extremely well, the couple have two lovely little girls,a third baby is on the way (it will be a boy) and the future looks bright for Peter van Pels...
Until in 1952, after the the couple make love and Peter tries to go to sleep while his wife is still reading a few pages from a newly published book.
He gets a glimpse of the title - it is Anne Franks Diary - and loses his voice.
From this point on you can observe Peters descend into paranoia and guilt. He suffers from flashbacks of the life he was compelled to forget and is driven into madness by the truth and its consequences.
He visits a psychiatrist as no doctor can find any physical reason for his loss of speech. The doctor starts to ask him questions about his past, which he answers with lies while the reader can see the thoughts in his mind. As Peter refuses to speak about his past this is the only way how the story can be told.
From the moment on he realizes that his loss of speech has to with his discovery of the book the story divides itself. On one side Peters story is told on the other the story of the book, its immense popularity, the theatre play and movie that followed ,the questions about its authenticity and finally Meyer Levins lawsuit against Otto Frank.
You could say that the more popular Annes story gets the more Peters situation worsens. He finally becomes a threat to himself and his family and has to decide wether to accept his past with all the consequences or to give up on staying alive.
In my opinion this book is extremely well researched especially when it comes to dealing with the post-traumatic experiences which most survivors of the Holocaust had to go through. It shows clearly that for most of them it wasn't all just joy and happiness for having survived after their liberation, but that for most of them, even so their life-styles would change dramatically, the suffering never ended/ends.
The only person who realy survived,Otto Frank,is the most controversial and certainly most unlikeable character in the book, has a totally opposed way in coming to terms with his past then Peter. Otto Frank, not one of the books main characters, never speaks to Peter and refuses to aknowledge his excistence, speaks only through his lawyers and some non-fictional citations on top of the chapters.The only time they meet is when Peter sits in the courtroom as a visitor during Ottos courtcase and here Otto Frank refuses to look at Peter.
Thanks to Ellen Feldmans researches you can obtain a lot more information about the people who used to live with Anne and Peter in the Hinterhaus. Especially Peters parents and Fritz Pfeiffer (Dussel) are shown in a totally new perspective then in Annes diaries and they loose all the comical characteristics they've gained through Annes descriptions. This difference in between how those persons have been characterized in Annes diaries and Ellen Feldmans book made me even more realize how young Anne was when she wrote her books.
A very gripping book that reads very easily ( I finished mine within 2 days) although due to its contents I would recommend not to read it on a grey and depressing day.
I would have liked to hear a bit about Peters relationship with Anne and was a bit disappointed that he never comments about their love story.
His life before he is confronted with his own past seems to me a bit too perfect and too idylic to be realistic and the way how he just exchanges one sister against the other while the whole family (apart from mother-in-law who things he's a bit dodgy) still loves him, doesn't sound very realistic either.
I will certainly read this book again at one point in the future and it surely has revoked my interest in Annes story again as I started to re-read her diaries straight after I put this one down.
As I mentioned before, I was about 12/13 years old when I read Annes Diaries for the first time and this will certainly apply to many of you as it is often used in schools to introduce children to the Holocaust.
The boy who loved Anne Frank is a book written for adults although it can certainly be read by older teenagers. I think that from about 16 years on it should be fine. If you were planing to give this book to a younger child who is interested in Anne Franks lifestory or the Holocaust in general then I would suggest that you read it first yourself and then decide if your child is ready for it.
My book was a Christmas present but I have checked Amazon for the prices:
6.99 £ for the paperback
9.09£ for the Hardcover
It is published by Picador, ISBN 0 330 43966 9
Thank you for reading, Sandra
To review this book I feel I must first mention a little about the story behind the book as it having a basic understanding of the true story makes the book make more sense. Most people are aware of the story of Anne Frank but for those who don't here is a brief history. Anne Frank was a 13 year old Jewish girl living in Amsterdam during the German occupation. During this time her and her family along with four others went into hiding in a secret annexe above her fathers office. They hid here for 25 months but were betrayed to the Nazis, arrested and deported to Nazi concentration camps, Anne died of typhus 9 months later at the age of 15. During her time in hiding she kept a diary which was saved and published.
One of the people hiding in the annexe was Peter Van Pels (or Van Daan as Anne called him). During the time in hiding he confessed to Anne that when they got out he would reinvent himself.
The story "The Boy who loved Anne Frank" is a fictional story, the author was inspired to write in after visiting Anne Franks house in Amsterdam where a tour guide told her that they had no account of what happened to Peter Van Daan, this led her to think what might have happened to Peter after the camps were liberated. And so the story was born. Some of the events in the book are based on true events, the play that was produced following the publication of the diary and the legal disputes that followed. The story of Peter however is completely fictional.
However the book is so well written you could easily believe that it was a true story of what happened to Peter. The author has done a lot of research which adds to the plot and the general presentation of the novel.
The basic plot is that after the liberation of the camp Peter travels to America to start a new life, a life where no-one knows who he is or what has happened to him. A quote from Anne Franks diary tells us that "He (Peter) said that after the war, he'd make sure nobody would know he was Jewish". And so Peter embarks on a new life changing his name and denying that he is Jewish. He makes a new life for himself, marries and has children. Interesting enough his wife is Jewish although he tells her he is not. He tries to put his past behind him but it comes back to haunt him when Anne Franks diary is published and becomes a talking point in America.
I really enjoyed this book. It was about a difficult subject but I think it was sensitively written basing itself on the facts. Once I started reading I got sucked into the book and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to Peter. The author portrayed the character in such a way that at times you really felt for him and all that he had been through and then something would happen that made you really dislike him and want to shout at him and say "Why are you doing that?". It's a book that you read and really feel touched at the end of it, it leaves you thinking about the past and the future and for a fictional novel that's an impressive feat. Having read a lot of lighthearted novels recently it was a nice change.
The author starts each chapter with some quotes, these are from a variety of sources including Anne Franks Diary, The Hidden Life of Otto Frank (Annes Father), reviews of the play and the movies and quotes from various commentaries. These help set the scene for each chapter and give the reader a little more information about Peters time in the annexe.
In summary I would say this is a very well written novel that would appeal to a wide section of people. There is not many books I would read that my husband would also enjoy we tend to have quite different tastes in books but this is one I know he would like (he got Anne Franks diary for his Christmas). If you have any interest in Anne Franks diary you will enjoy this and even if you don't it is a good read by itself. I certainly will look out for Ellen Feldman in the future if this book is anything to go by then her other novels will be a worth a read.
Hardback -Currently on sale at The Book People for £4.99 or Amazon for £8.57
Paperback - Available from 3rd March 2006 - Amazon quoting £3.99
ISBN - 0330439669
Pages - 264