My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
If you know the story of Anne Frank – the Dutch Jewish girl who kept a diary of her life in hiding in an attic in Amsterdam and died in a Nazi death camp during the Second World War – you may well have wondered how the Franks were discovered by the German Gestapo just months before the Dutch capital was liberated by the Allies.
In Amsterdam some years ago, when I toured the Anne Frank museum I left the cramped rooms asking myself the same questions millions of other visitors must have been asking – WHO betrayed the Frank family? It has been one of the unanswered questions of the Second World War and deeply intriguing to anyone who has read Anne’s extraordinary record of her “internment”.
This would make a great subject for a novel, I told myself with a gush of enthusiasm. I went for coffee, quickly wrote a few notes and consigned the idea to the back of my mind for deeper deliberation. I was busy and promised myself that I’d pursue the story later. Years passed.
And last fall in Rimouski, Quebec, I discovered that someone else has now written such a novel. Joop by Richard Lourie, is the fictional story of who and how Anne Frank and her family were discovered by the Germans and sent to the concentration camps where all but the father died.
When I found the book in the only English-language bookshop in the French-speaking town, I went back to the boat, curled up on the berth in the cabin and settled down to read the Lourie’s book. Joop is one of the most satisfying works of fiction I have ever read. The story is intriguing, the characters believable and, perhaps most important of all, the world of Amsterdam under occupation and in wartime is completely convincing. And it is within this world that the sequence of events that led to the death of Anne and her family took place. Joop carries the psychic weight of the story – even if the events of the novel are made-up, the book is utterly believable and credible that events could have happened in the way American novelist Richard Lourie describes.
“Fiction is history that didn’t happen and history is fiction that did,” wrote George Orwell,; the quote is aptly given at the front of the book
Two brothers who were boys during the war but became separated after the war and haven’t seen each other for 60 years meet again when Willem returns to Amsterdam to see his brother Joop.
Who killed Anne Frank? “You,” Joop tells his brother. And that is the start of the relationships, events and circumstances that culminated in the tragedy of the Franks’ murder by the Nazis.
Joop unpacks the complexities of life – nothing in the novel is black and white, good and bad, right or wrong. Lourie lays out his fictional truth.
Anne wrote in her diary:
“I look upon our life in hiding as an interesting adventure, full of danger and romance.” She wouldn’t say that if she were watching her own beloved papa wasting away under a dirty sheet. She wouldn’t say that if she came out of a long illness to find her own sister dead. She wouldn’t say that if she were eating tulip bulbs instead of green peas.
“She’s a snobby little rich girl who…can’t wait to get back to her usual high standard of living, complaining that they’ve been using the same oilcloth to cover the table since the war started.
“She thinks everything about her is interesting – to people and to God. ‘Sometimes I think God is trying to test me, both now and in the future.’ But that’s not how God works.
How god works is like this. Anne Frank wants to be a famous writer. She prays for it. ‘If God lets me live, I’ll achieve more than Mother ever did. I’ll make my voice heard. . . “But if she lives, she’ll be just another teenager who hates her mother. It’s death that makes her famous. God answers her prayers for fame. He sends her death. He sends her me. She gets fame. I get a secret.”
Joop is on my shortlist of best war novels. The uncertainties, the moral greyness, the rawness, the fear, the boredom are all part of the mix. Normal life goes on – yet is completely abnormal. If you like to settle with a great story, moral dilemmas and interesting characters, Joop is book to seek out and read.
Joop, a novel of Anne Frank, by Richard Lourie, was first published in 2007 by Thomas Dunne Books.
Buy nowJoop: A Novel of Anne Frank