Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fictionalizing Anne Frank

by Chasya

A few weeks ago I asked you all about your thoughts on books that reinvent some of your favorite characters, like Shakespeare’s Juliet. So when I read in the Guardian about a recent dispute centered around Sharon Dogar's book Annexed, a novel that fictionalizes Anne Frank and, as the article put it, “should probably bear the subtitle of Peter van Pel’s Imaginary Diary,” I thought I would bring this to a blog vote as well.

Meg Rosoff makes the point that Anne Frank’s trust has every right to be upset (and says that is, in effect, what they’re supposed to do). She points out, however, that writers should be allowed to write whatever they like so long as they do it well, though she herself doesn’t approve of what Dogar is doing. I, too, feel uncomfortable with the notion of Frank being used this way. As someone who’s read and enjoyed one or two Philippa Gregory novels though, I wonder if this reaction is due more to who the fictional character is based on.

So now I turn to you for your opinion: Has Dogar done something wrong, or does she have the right to use Anne Frank’s history and make it her own?


  1. Personally I don't think there's anything wrong with it. I mean yes she is probably cashing in a little on the name, hoping people will buy it because it's ANNE FRANK'S fictionalized diary rather than an unnamed girl. But writers can write about real life people and events so I think the problem people might have is more to do with Anne Frank's fame or how revered she seems to be rather than with the fact that she fictionalized someone's real life.

  2. My vote: She has the right. Just because someone died under horrible circumstances or was a historical figure or is put on a pedestal does not mean that their memory is sacrosanct. By this reasoning, Jesus would be off limits, as would Hitler, Ghandi, Sitting Bull, Mother Teresa, Queen Elizabeth I, you name it. In fact, how could you ever justify writing about anyone but yourself, and even then you might be accused of lying. If someone died under horrible circumstances, all the more reason to get it out in the open, to let the "truth" become part of the communal discussion. That said, she does have a responsibility to try to get it right and not misrepresent, as much as possible (depending on how she labels it).

  3. I think the difference between Phiippa Gregory and Anne Frank is time. There are still living people who survived what Anne Frank didn't. Not to mention their children, who were wounded by their parents' horrors. And THEIR children.

    Once this gift (yes, heavy sarcasm intended) stops giving, then the time will be better for this sort of thing. But right now?

    The wounds bubble too close to the surface, still. We need more time, and then fictionalizing Anne Frank will be as necessary to the understanding for many as is the fictionalizing of Napoleon.

  4. We've fictionalized pretty much all the queens of England, as well as many other historical characters. This is no different. HOWEVER, that said, this may still be a too recent era of history to work with. I don't know.

  5. On the flip side, would we want to tell people, "There are certain subjects you cannot write about"?

  6. Although I think she has a right to write anything she likes, I wish that she would have written an entirely fictionalized account that didn't feature Anne Frank or Peter van Pels.

    Not because people in the past should be forbidden subjects, but because I don't feel that Anne Frank or Peter van Pels are far enough in the past. They have family members and friends still living.

    They're not a history lesson to those people, they're loved ones. The fact that only in the last 15 years did we find out that their last name was not van Daan, but van Pels, indicates pretty clearly that this is not yet the past.

    I think we *can* write about anything we like. I just think, as a writer and a human being, there are some times when we should show restraint.

  7. Writers can--and should--write about anything they want, but putting it in the marketplace and making money on it can be construed as exploitation. Is it in this case? I'm thinking yes.

  8. Susan, I definitely don't agree with you. While having survivors/children of survivors of the Holocaust alive makes the topic more painful I don't believe it makes it off limits! By that logic we would have to be outraged by all media that describes the Holocaust or the surrounding events, Schindler's List or The Burning Times, The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas or novels or films about more recent historical events like Apocalypse Now. Should we not have had books like At Risk or the play Angels in America because AIDs sufferers still live among us? The fact is she isn't even rewriting Anne Frank's Diary, she's writing Peter's. What is most insulting perhaps is that the outrage over this book is not because it "desecrates" HIS memory but that of someone he once knew!

  9. What did anyone think of The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, by Ellen Feldman? The premise was Peter surviving the war and moving to America, so it didn't cover the time of the diary, but Anne was certainly a character (in flashback).

  10. To me, the essence of being a grown up is just because you have the right to do something, doesn't mean you should.

    Given the fact that every year some people claim that Anne Frank's diary is fictional, I think this was a bad idea.

  11. For those who say not to write it, not enough time has passed: When you were a kid, were you told, either explicitly or implicitly, "Now, don't you tell anyone about what goes on in this family?" "You SHOULDN'T tell." I've heard that there were German people who knew what was going on in the concentration camps, but they tacitly agreed not to talk about it. When we don't talk about things, that's when they have power. So by saying she shouldn't write this, you're privileging power, control, shame, and guilt over truth, honesty, justice, and societal health.

    In summary, I respectfully disagree.

  12. Of course she has the "right" to do it, just as I have the right to think it's tasteless and unethical.

  13. @Kelly, can I ask what exactly makes it unethical? Do you oppose fictionalisation of all people who were once living?

  14. Whether she has the right to do it isn't my place to decide.

    It is however entirely within my right to decide I have no interest in reading such a work.

    I'll pass, thanks.

  15. I was never too fond of fiction based off of real people and their stories.

  16. Suzi McGowen's comment has the gist of it down.

    While writing a fictionalized diary of someone real is not that big a deal as long as it's clearly stated as fiction, Anne Frank's diary is a special case because holocaust deniers are constantly declaring the original fiction to begin with. Here you have something that people refuse to accept as true and something like this complicates matters more.

    An author can't be held responsible for what a few crazies do with what they have written, but I feel they do have to responsible enough to be aware of the circumstances surrounding the subject they write about and consider seriously the impact of what they publish.

    Hell, the book could mean nothing to anyone and fade out of memory without anyone caring. The idea of it just tickles me the wrong way.

  17. WriterGirl, I'll not argue with your disagreement of my opinion.

    I'm just going to say that I don't think you're part of a survivor family whose scars show oh, so clearly. To compare these scars to AIDS or to the attempts to show the greatness of common people (although was Schindler really common? Hmm.) in the face of such horror shows you don't understand the depth of the survivor phenomenon. There is such outrage among the second generation that Jews -- that their RELATIVES -- were led like lambs to the slaughter that books and movies of people who fought back are necessary. The truth remains vital, especially in the face of so much disbelief and distrust the doubters bring to the table.

    Heck, author Steven Beeber was brash and brave enough to show how the Holocaust birthed an entire genre of music, one that is still vital and alive today. This is the power of the survivor phenomena. An entire genre of music. Think about that.

    As for your other examples, the other Holocaust stories/movies have a validity because they seek to help with the healing process. This book, as I've seen it presented thus far (and frankly, I had a hard time dealing with Holocaust lit before realizing the depth of the dysfunction the event left behind, so I will not be reading this book, either), takes a REAL person and twists things around.

    That is where the pain comes in. Remember the fuss over the book The Apple? A survivor made up a story that he passed off as real because he needed to heal, to prove there is kindness in the world, even if he had to invent it.

    I'm sorry. The time isn't right. Yes, we should talk about this stuff. Yes, it belongs on its own shelf in the fiction section. Yes, further down the road, we can tout Historical Holocaust Fiction as possessing the same validity that Historical Queen Elizabeth holds.

    Once the bulk of the pain has passed. And it is. Studies are showing that the third generation does not wear some of the trauma of their parents and surviving grandparents. Those scars are healing over. But I wonder. The pain, the horror... I thought I'd become immune to it until I heard it out of the mouth of a survivor who means a lot to me. Looking at someone you love and hearing these tales... it changes your life. It truly does.

    There will be a time and a place for this sort of fiction. As someone for whom this event, which happened years before my birth, is still so very real, I'm just stating from the trenches that the time is not now.

  18. I've read Meg Rosoff's article and I agree with her. People have the right to write these books, but that doesn't make it right or mean that the families of victims will be thrilled. My biggest fear here would be what another commenter said: that people unfamiliar with the story (and the history) will imagine that Anne Frank's diary is also a work of fiction.

    I could give Rosoff a big hug for being another reader who wasn't enthralled with 'The Boy in Striped Pyjamas'.

  19. I don't mind at all reading Shakespeare's Juliet long before she met Romeo or another angle of her that was not part of the original story. I even like Johnny Depp's release of Alice. It will be fun...imaginative...

  20. I'm a bit late to the conversation, but I agree that time is the real issue here. Of course any author has the right to do this, but how soon is too soon to avoid being seen as opportunistic or cruel or any other negative adjective? Caesar and Abraham Lincoln were fictionalized long after their deaths. There are still people alive who went through the same thing as Anne Frank, who knew Anne Frank. Will writing about her in a fictionalized manner ever become tasteful, and if so, how long will it take? The comments here alone show that there's still dissension to the idea that we've already reached that point.

  21. Just as long as nobody writes an "Anne Frank--Zombie"novel. There are lines of taste that I think shouldn't be crossed. Now, I must get back to "Abraham Lincoln--Vampire Hunter."

  22. I'm slightly torn on this one. On the one hand, I think writers should be able to write whatever they like and it's up to the reader to choose whether or not to read it. After all, in in the end, it's the reader's choice, so there's no sense in blaming a writer for writing a book if you're going to pick it up and read it anyway.

    On the other hand, I do agree with everyone who's said that the history is too painful and too near still. That said, everyone seems to be writing about and making films about Nazis these days; and people have fictionalized more recent historical figures, even if those historical figures had less horrific stories behind them.

    So I suppose in the end, I don't really know. But I am certain that it's a reader's choice to read or not to read.

  23. I don't think you can say that the book shouldn't be written without reading it. Even if it's a paradox, it's a knee jerk reaction. Why are we SO quick to accuse someone of "twisting the story" and "taking advantage"? You need to read the book before you pass judgment on it, especially when the author has gone to such pains to ensure its accuracy as much as she can.

    Also, some people are saying its "too soon." Why? Why are we only allowed to discuss (because that's what this book is: a discussion) touchy subjects after everyone who can remember them is gone? Wouldn't it be better for us as a society to bring everything out in the open when there are still people who can contribute to the discussion first-hand? And who decides when "enough" time has passed?

    Especially for those of us who aren't Jewish, I think we should welcome anything that brings the Holocaust to the forefront. I know, for me, we read maybe a paragraph in a history book about it and - that was it. Couldn't discuss it or try to figure out how something like that could have been so accepted. Wasn't allowed, wasn't important. Or maybe it was too horrible, too 'real.' Even as a child, it pissed me off. So maybe that's why I'm defending the book now.

    I say let the discussion happen. And to be clear, the discussion needs to be about the events, the culture, how this happened and how to make sure it never happens again - not about whether or not someone should have written a book.