Reviewed by Palo Garcia
by David R. Gillham
416 pages. Viking.
What if, instead of succumbing to disease in the Bergen-Belsen camp, Anne Frank survived the Holocaust?
This scenario is what David R. Gillham explores in Annelies (which is also the brilliant young diarist’s real name), an immersive novel set in the Netherlands, Germany, and New York during the turbulent years surrounding the Second World War. At the heart of the novel is Anne—an amalgamation of the real-life Anne Frank and the woman she would have grown to become, had she survived—and Gillham takes us through her transformation, as well as every heartwarming and heartbreaking moment in between.
Gillham starts by painting a vivid picture of normalcy. The Franks were just like every other family in the respectable district they live in, except they were Jewish. We see the friction between Anne and her mother, Anne’s deep affection for her father, her interactions with her sister and her friends, and even her reputation as a boy-crazy know-it-all among neighbors. We also see her visiting her favorite stationery shop to buy the red-and-white checkered autograph book that will serve as her confidante during the years she spent in the House Behind.
Meticulously researched and thoughtfully written, Annelies does not stop at simply expanding Anne’s world as the real-life Anne penned in the pages of her diary. It goes beyond the gates of the concentration camp where Anne, her sister Margot, and their mother were deported to and brings the young diarist back to the arms of her beloved father.
However, this novel is not a simple attempt at creating a happy ending for one of history’s most well-known tragic figures. After surviving her ordeal at Bergen-Belsen, Anne’s mother and sister are dead, and her father—once a constantly bright spot in her life—a husk of the man he used to be. She also finds that while the Netherlands might be liberated from oppressive fascist cruelty, things do not go back to how she remembered them to be.
Gillham perfectly captures the painful combination of anger, grief, and guilt that a survivor goes through. For a couple of chapters, he takes the reader through the emotions swirling within Anne as she copes with survivor’s guilt and struggles with the anger that dampens her once confident spirit. It’s easy to dwell in this painful time, but the true highlight of Annelies is Anne’s redemption as she uses her tragic story to connect to and inspire young female readers.
Annelies, again, is more than an expansion of the Anne Frank story—it’s a powerful story of a woman’s journey through loss and the hope she finds to repair her soul and the world.
Annelies by David R. Gillham is available at Fully Booked branches and Fully Booked Online.
Palo Garcia is a writer by trade and a book hoarder at heart. She hopes to one day conquer the behemoth that is her to-be-read pile. She sometimes talks about books and films on social media (@palollibee on Twitter and Instagram).
[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.]