Who betrayed Anne Frank?
A novel imagines the desperation and regret of a boy trying to do right.
After a certain point, and if you're the creative sort, the only way to engage with a myth, perhaps, is to rewrite it.
It has been done before – with Moby Dick, Huck Finn, and even with Anne Frank. We have novels imagining a surviving Anne Frank living in New England, or a surviving Peter van Pels, who shared the "secret annex" and an adolescent romance with Frank, living in New York. We even have a novel about the war from the perspective of Anne Frank's cat.
Richard Lourie's A Hatred for Tulips, on the other hand, turns the Anne Frank story, and the country in which it occurs, upside down. This slim book, Lourie's fifth novel, pivots on a simple, burning question: Who betrayed Anne Frank?
The story begins with two brothers meeting for the first time since the end of World War II, when their mother left her husband to run off with a Canadian soldier – and younger son Willem – to America. Willem has come to Amsterdam to find Joop and learn what happened during the war. Joop envies his "lucky American brother, who has so few bad memories that he had to come all the way to Holland to get some."
This is not – despite the cover art and the plot teaser – a book about Anne Frank. It is, rather, a book about sibling rivalry and surviving circumstance.
At first, Joop is a carefree boy trying to earn his father's love and respect. Then twin brothers are born, stealing their parents' attention. Soon, the Nazis come, too. Joop's uncle joins the Dutch Nazi Party.
Joop tries to play a prank on the Nazis and prove his bravery to his father, but his uncle catches him. Angered at the risk of the stunt, Joop's father withdraws from his son. Then the Amsterdam he knows begins to shut him out, too: "It used to be that Amsterdamers were proud to have passersby look into their houses," Joop says. "But all windows were now covered with blackout paper.... People weren't proud of their houses and the lives they were leading in them anymore, and so the houses seemed to be turning away from the street."
In this cold, new Amsterdam, Joop looks for work wherever he can find it. He gives the money he earns to his father, hoping the money will bring him respect. Eventually he lands regular work in a warehouse and earns extra cash on the side by making "private deliveries" for the owner: Joop crosses town with vegetables hidden in his backpack, dropping them off at the homes of people hiding Jews.