Reviewed by Chris Loza
by David R. Gillham
416 pages. Viking.
Alternate fiction is a tricky thing. You take a piece of history, say World War II and imagine an alternative version where the Nazis won and you have Philip K. Dick’s wonderfully realized The Man in the High Castle. In a similar, more intimate manner, Gillham put himself to task in creating an alternate world where Anne Frank survived the Holocaust. It is no easy task especially since The Diary of a Young Girl is one of the most widely read and beloved books of our time. Her precocious wit and ambition, her love for her father Pim, and ambivalent attitude towards her mother and sister, Margot need to be fleshed out in greater detail and in a much wider perspective than merely Frank’s own musings in her diary. Gillham needs to pull off in balancing Frank’s voice and his own, while imagining how that voice—and her life—evolves as she matures.
The book opens with Anne Frank’s early life that’s recorded in her diary but fleshed out more so with the minutiae of daily life in the midst of escalating terror. The curfews, the racial profiling of Jews, the dwindling supply of food all come into picture along with Frank’s perception that these events are temporary and merely a nuisance that will soon be over and she could get on with her life. Little did she know that global events that seem distant would soon come knocking in their door and change the course of their lives.
After the events of the war, the book becomes purely fiction as Anne Frank grows up with a disquieting anger from having survived the war, while her mother and sister didn’t. Her father, broken but alive, struggles to rebuild their life, but survivor’s guilt drives Anne as everything she ever imagined and hoped for feels like a different lifetime already. Eventually, when the diary she thought she had lost during the war is found, Anne opens up to her life and finds a new road to redemption and forgiveness.
The book ends with some measure of hope and provides some semblance of a happy ending to one of our most tragic figures in history. Herein lies the power of fiction and of this novel. Not so much in reimagining a life, but in the whimsical hope that in some parallel universe, everyone that we have lost is found and alive.
Gillham portrays Anne not as saintly as those who have died young are easily imagined, but as a complex woman with the burden of having survived one of the most despicable crimes in human history. In some ways, the book reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s trilogy of books on Holocaust starting with Night, his personal account of surviving the Holocaust, and then moving into the fictional realm with Dawn and Day as he comes to terms with the brutality with some ounce of hope.
I find a certain wistfulness upon finishing the book, the kind that wishes in some degree that this was not a work of fiction. There was hesitation on my part to finish reading because I know that as soon as I finish the book, the reality is Anne Frank did not survive the war. This is the kind of escapist fiction you wish would never end.
Annelies by David R. Gillham is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Chris has written on Wattpad, yellowpads, and notepads. A few of his articles are in the dusty archives of Inquirer’s Youngblood and Philippine Star’s My Favorite Book, while one story got lost among the Kindles on Amazon. He works as a Systems Administrator by day and a recluse at night. You can reach him on Twitter and Instagram @cd_loza.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]