Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by Ellen Feldman

Pub Date: April 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-939-05944-8
Publisher: Norton

Feldman (Lucy, 2003, etc.), a.k.a. Elizabeth Villars, imagines there being another survivor from the secret annex besides Otto Frank.

Peter van Pels (van Daan in the Diary) is imagined here as having survived Mauthausen, been processed as a DP, and sent to New York for a new life of security and health as an American. And Peter does very well indeed. He forms a profitable company that puts up tract houses in New Jersey, just ahead of the huge postwar migration to the suburbs. He also marries (living in one of his own houses), has two daughters, then a son—and, by rights, ought to be happy. Yet at story’s opening, Peter is in a psychiatrist’s office, irascible, short-tempered—and without his voice. When did he lose it? On the night, we learn, when his wife was reading Anne’s Diary. Peter will become increasingly rigid, paranoid, even suicidal—all because, as the reader knows from the very moment Peter steps off the ship, his desire for survival and security (his and his family’s) demanded that he pass as a non-Jew (he’d be “on the safe side of the line”), his blue eyes and brown hair making this possible in spite of the camp tattoo on his arm. But the price he pays for attempting to turn his back on the past grows clear only in those years when Anne’s Diary sweeps the world as play and then movie—and Peter grows outraged at the untruthfulness of it: the suffering left out, made not real, and the way—for dramatic effect—that his own father is reduced to a man who sneaks bread from the others while all are starving. Peter’s transformation is mechanical and hasty, but, to all, he will admit his deceit, “[crying] for the second murder of my parents, the one I had committed by silence.”

Creaky joints, rough seams, thin characters, intrusively insistent evocations of the 1950s: a tale, nevertheless, that achieves drive, even some seriousness.