In the following Q&A, Annexed author Sharon Dogar addresses some common questions surrounding her new book and Anne Frank’s diary. In this article, she also addresses some of the concerns that have arisen about its controversial slant.
A. I first read the diary when I was twelve years old. My father was an immigrant to the United Kingdom and my mother was from England. Mixed marriages were unusual at that time and in Anne Frank’s diary I found a way of thinking about my feelings of difference; a template, perhaps, for not allowing other people’s perception of me to curdle my own view of myself. I learnt that being young, culturally different and female didn’t mean you couldn’t be intelligent and visible, as well as long to be writer.
Q. What inspired you to write Peter’s story?
A. There are so many reasons why, I’m not sure I know how to separate them all out. It began with a fascination with Anne’s diary itself, and from that grew a sense that I wished I knew more about the other people in the annex, especially Peter. Reading the diary as an adult and a therapist, I was fascinated by the idea of different interpretations. For example, initially Anne sees Peter as a self-obsessed hypochondriac but to me he came across as a depressed teenager and one who might be turning his feelings into physical symptoms. On another level I was responding to my (and my daughter’s) teenage self, in that I had always wondered what happened after the annex and thus began my own journey into learning about the holocaust as a teenager. Once I’d started researching the story I became lost in the horror of the holocaust and the desire to portray it in a way that was both truthful and as accurate as possible – as well as respectful.
Q. All those teenage boy feelings – depression, angst and love – you captured so well. I had to keep remind myself that the author was a woman. How did you do that?
A. I wish I knew because then I’d be able to conjure it up at will! I can tell you how I try to make it happen. I sit at my desk and write and write and write in the hope that at some point the ‘character’ will begin to speak for him or herself. I try to live with them inside of me, to carry them with me and imagine what they might do or say in any given situation. Sometimes they come alive and sometimes they don’t. With Peter this happened almost immediately, it was like opening a door and the sea rushing in, it was all I could do to write fast enough. The first draft of the book only took four months. The editing process took another two years.
Q. Peter and Anne start their relationship much like a brother and sister, but it soon evolves into more. How did you approach this facet of their relationship while writing the book?
A. I began to write the book and waited for the characters to come alive. If they don’t the book is never finished; if they do then the story takes on a life of its own. Any thinking about how to approach different aspects of the novel comes afterwards. I did work on certain aspects of their relationship in the editing process because I was aware of how sensitive an issue it might be. Ultimately I decided not to go beyond the confines of Anne’s own text, although Peter, of course sees it all from his own point of view. The most fascinating parts of their relationship for me lay in thinking about whether they would have even noticed each other outside of the annex, and the apparent tension within Anne between her teenage hormones and her desire to write.
Q. Annexed deals with powerful themes and one of the most horrific times in world history.How did you approach the subject with a young adult audience in mind?
A. I didn’t. I don’t believe young adults need to be protected as much as they need to be exposed (with gentleness if possible) to the reality of the world in all its forms; good, bad and ugly. Anne never hides or pretends and I took my lead from her. She was remarkably intelligent, imaginative and compassionate, as well as honest. She never patronized her readers, and I tried to do the same. I don’t have her raw talent or brilliance, but I do have the same respect she has for her readers at all times as equals.