Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman

What if Peter Van Pels were to survive to tell the tale? Feldman's historical projection in her novel, 'The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank' answers this historical "what if" in a realistic, novel and a profound way.

Peter (known as Peter Van Daan in Anne Frank's diary) survives the war but hides the fact he is Peter Van Pels, even from his wife. In living his new life, he strives to build all the vestiges of stability and security around him but the ghosts of his past soon comes to haunt him which manifests in the strange occurrence of him losing his voice. This is finally broken when he confronts the only living document that details his past; The Diary of Anne Frank. This triggers a complex journey for Peter as he tries to make sense of his past while being constantly reminded of those dark times with the ongoing hype about the endeavours surrounding the diary.


What makes this a gripping read is Feldman's faithfulness to the psyche of Peter in which she breaks the mould of the naivete of Anne Frank's portrayal and induce it with a strong modern sensibility. Her skillfulness in blurring the lines between what is happening, Peter's thoughts as well as his memories of the war produces a surrealistic landscape that enhances our understanding of Peter's viewpoint and the horror of his past that keeps haunting him. In the course of the exploration of Peter's psyche, certain truths become incredibly evident which is why this offering is such a gem. Firstly, the novel addresses the modern treatment of horrific events such as the Holocaust in which it appears that it has become more of a fascination that a grieving remembrance. Such a truth is enhanced by Feldman's wonderful gift of imagery and I was choking with grief when I read the following lines:

'I was crying for the innocence of that father walking home through the blushing Amsterdam evening, for the hope of that woman scrubbing a new flat for a new life, for the boy who thought he was safe. I was crying for a world that saw a war coming, that feared the worst, but had no inkling how bad the worst could be.'

Truly, who would have thought that such a thing will happen? And it is sad truth that no matter how hard we try, we can never truly understand what it was like to have been there. Therefore, rather than belittling the experiences of the victims, the greatest tribute we can give to them is our sincere grievance, respect and to open our eyes to similar events happening in our time and try to stop it. What a profound truth and it certainly takes a gifted writer to present it to us in such an impactful way.


To all who have passed on,
Rest in Peace.