What if Anne Frank had survived the camps? The world knows her as the bright, curious young girl whose diary gave voice to the experience of Jews in hiding during World War II. But if Anne had lived beyond the horrors of Bergen-Belsen, her story would necessarily be more complicated. With compassion and rich historical detail, David R. Gillham (City of Women) imagines Anne's next chapter in his second novel, Annelies.
Gillham opens his narrative in 1942, as the Franks prepare to go into hiding. Those familiar with Anne's story will recognize the main characters: Margot, the sober, sensible older sister; Miep Gies, the trusted office confidant; and those who joined them in the Secret Annex: the van Pels family and Herr Pfeffer, the dentist. Gillham vividly renders Anne as a restless, ambitious young teenager, at once acutely aware of every small change in her daily life and almost completely ignorant of the larger implications of Nazi occupation.
The novel takes readers through the Franks' years in hiding and into the camps, then to postwar Amsterdam, where Anne--reunited with her father and Miep, but deeply traumatized by her wartime experiences--struggles to make sense of a world she barely recognizes. Mourning the deaths of her mother and Margot, and still furious at the unknown person who betrayed their group to the SS, Anne finds herself both unable and unwilling to adjust to ordinary life. She is bored by school, frustrated by mundane tasks at her father's office and baffled by others' insistence on moving forward. Even her writing holds little appeal for her now. Instead, she wonders why she survived when Margot and so many others did not.
Gillham's narration brings Anne to complex life. She emerges as a young woman struggling with everyday desires, fears and ambitions, while grappling with unbelievable trauma and deep anger. Her father, Otto, is portrayed as kind and responsible, determined to seek out hope while burdened by his own losses and his continuing obligations to his employees. The other characters serve as foils for both Anne and Otto, treating them with compassion, but eventually calling Anne's stubborn assertions into question. She has not, as a co-worker finally says, "utterly cornered the market on pain." While her suffering is great, it is neither unique nor the only truth.
Eventually, Anne meets a rabbi who introduces her to the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, "repairing the world." This idea, and the implication that she might share in that responsibility, finally gives her "a soupçon of hope," helping her to seek forgiveness and move slowly forward. Annelies is a deeply moving portrait of the woman Anne Frank might have become, and a powerful meditation on loss, humanity and the possibility of redemption. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Shelf Talker: David Gillham's powerful second novel vividly imagines Anne Frank struggling to adjust to life in postwar Amsterdam.