Review

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank

by Ellen Feldman



For people around the world, Anne Frank has become a symbol of hope
and a reminder of the tragedy of the Holocaust. From her diary,
readers learn not only a lot about this particular young woman and
the people she went into hiding with, but also about the state of
desperation that Jews like those in the secret annex felt. While
for readers Anne is a vivid person, full of life, we know that she
died a tragic and senseless death as did those, except her father,
in the annex with her. But what if someone else survived? Someone
who chose to disassociate himself not only with Anne Frank and the
secret annex, but with his identity altogether? What if Peter
survived, yet assumed a new identity? Ellen Feldman's new novel,
THE BOY WHO LOVED ANNE FRANK, asks just this question and then sets
out to examine the new life of a scarred, scared and traumatized
man.


After surviving the concentration camps and displaced person camps,
Peter van Pels, known as Peter van Daan in Anne Frank's diary,
makes it to New York where he plans to start a new life. His idea
of a new life, however, entails shedding as much of his identity as
possible. His denial about the events he survived is so strong that
he admits to no one what he has been through and starts life in
America as a Protestant from Amsterdam who, while victimized by the
war, was a political prisoner only. Peter works hard and eventually
goes into business building homes in the New Jersey suburbs. He
meets his beautiful, ironically Jewish, wife Madeleine and has
three children. Peter is living the American dream. But no one, not
even his wife, knows his true identity.


When Peter sees his wife reading a copy of the newly published THE
DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL and Anne Frank's face confronting him from
the cover, he loses his voice. Frank's diary is made into a play
and then into a movie, and Peter is unable to escape the story,
which is his story too. He is driven to despair and thoughts of
violence, and still he is unable to share his identity with anyone.
When he finally learns how his father's memory is disrespected in
the diary and its reenactments, he begins to work up the courage to
accept his past and what it means for his present and future.


Throughout the majority of the novel, the reader is overcome with
tension as Peter carries his burden. It is obvious he will confront
his past eventually, but we, along with him, are not relieved for a
long time. Finally, Peter does share his sadness, his trauma and
his guilt and anger in the most unexpected (but perhaps the most
logical) place.


THE BOY WHO LOVED ANNE FRANK is an extremely tense and taut
psychological portrait of a survivor. Peter's emotions, though
hidden, are raw and his suffering feels real. His tale is, apart
from details, not unique, as his experiences and trauma are shared
by many. Feldman's novel is almost unrelenting in its drama and
honest in its conflict, not in the least that Peter isn't always a
likable character. While the high level of tension is, for the most
part, appreciated and the novel is well-written and researched, it
tends to lag a bit as Peter confronts identical situations again
and again and his emotional growth is slow, albeit realistically
so.


This is a unique and interesting novel, and an original approach to
fiction about Holocaust survivors.


   












Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on December 22, 2010

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank
by Ellen Feldman

  • Publication Date: April 11, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • ISBN-10: 0393059448
  • ISBN-13: 9780393059441