Sharon Dogar fights back over 'sexed up' Anne Frank novel
Children's novelist defends Annexed, which re-imagines the relationship between Anne Frank and Peter van Pels
Richard Lea, guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 22 June 2010
Timeless teenager ... The adolescent relationship between Anne Frank and Peter van Pels is explored in Sharon Dogar's novel. Photograph: AP
The contested legacy of Anne Frank, the teenage girl whose diaries have captured the imagination of generations and brought to life the horrors of the Holocaust, has sparked a new row, after a British writer was accused of "exploitation" in her novelisation of Frank's wartime experiences.
The co-founder and executive director of the Anne Frank Trust, Gillian Walnes, reacted angrily to her first sight of Sharon Dogar's novel Annexed, due to be published in September, saying that her re-imagining of the relationship between Anne and a boy who hid from the Nazis in the same Amsterdam building, Peter van Pels, was "not fair on someone who was a living person".
"I really don't understand why we have to fictionalise the Anne Frank story, when young people engage with it anyway," she said. "To me it seems like exploitation. If this woman writer is such a good novelist, why doesn't she create characters from scratch?"
Dogar, who said that she "might be in shock" after the Sunday Times accused her of "sexing up" Anne Frank, said that she was "worried herself" about being exploitative as she wrote.
"The problem is that a writer doesn't always choose what they write," she said. "The idea of this book plagued me for 15 years. I tried quite hard not to write it, mostly because I had similar concerns; I couldn't do it justice, I wasn't sure it was legitimate, I didn't believe I had the talent to portray the horror of the Holocaust. But sometimes stories just come and you can't stop them."
"How it might have felt to be written about by her is central to the novel," she continued, "and so perhaps it's no surprise that the question of how she might have felt to be written about has arisen. I often wonder what she might think."
Dogar says she made every effort to portray the events and characters accurately, citing a correspondence with Frank's only surviving relative, Buddy Elias, in which she says she assuaged his initial doubts over the book, and he finished by wishing her well with it.
"I'm certainly sad that many people's first view of my book doesn't reflect the truth of it," she said.
Her editor at Andersen Press, Charlie Sheppard, said that they had been in touch with Elias for many months, and had sent him an early version of the book to look at. "We spoke to Buddy, we spoke to [Anne Frank's] biographer, we spoke endlessly about each word," she said, "because the last thing anyone wanted was to cause any offence."
The novel, which opens with Peter on the point of death, is told as a series of diary entries interspersed with the thoughts of the dying boy, charting the story of the time he spent hiding with the Franks in the Annexe at 263 Prinsengracht, his discovery and his time in the Mauthausen concentration camp. But it is the small part of the book that concerns Peter's teenage sexuality that has angered Walnes, and led her to accuse Dogar of "putting 21st-century mores on to young people" from a different era.
"I don't understand why this story has to be sexualised," she said, "and why Peter's character has to be changed."
Dogar rejects the accusation of anachronism, countering that there is nowhere in the book where they come close to breaking the taboo around sex, and that "in the book the reality of just one truly intimate touch was enough to stop them".
Full story at The Guardian online.
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