Prolific novelist Elin Hilderbrand, dubbed “the queen of beach reads” by New York Magazine, has created controversy with a brief Anne Frank reference in her latest book—Golden Girl, published by Little, Brown—that some readers view as anti-Semitic.
In a flashback in the novel, young Vivi—who, in the present timeline, has died in a car accident—compares herself to Anne Frank when she is debating staying in her friend Savannah’s parents’ attic in Nantucket:
“You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like . . . like Anne Frank?”
This makes them both laugh—but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?
Two possible concerns for readers: the passage features a character making light of Anne Frank, and the “is Vivi so far off base” turn seemingly equates Vivi’s plight with Anne Frank’s, even though the thought is from a child’s perspective. This is a character speaking, not the author, and there’s no indication readers are meant to take Vivi’s emotional thought as objective truth—nevertheless, readers weren’t pleased, taking to Instagram to air their grievances. Wrote Instagram user @poursandpages, “Really disappointed to see this, @littlebrown. The horrifically antisemetic [sic] ‘joke’ that was made in this book was not only written by @elinhilderbrand, but presumably approved by multiple people at LB. Looking forward to your statement & apology to the Jewish community, as well as Elin’s.”
Hilderbrand initially direct messaged critics on Instagram, as well as responding to comments on her Instagram posts by apologizing, saying that the line was “not a throwaway quip; it was an expression of angst from someone who felt marginalized socioeconomically,” and stating that her sensitivity reader for the book had not flagged the passage. Then, after Publishers Weekly reported on the controversy, Hildebrand released a public statement on Instagram:
In a flashback scene in Golden Girl, p. 144, my main character Vivi compares herself to Anne Frank. I want to wholeheartedly apologize for this. It was meant as hyperbole but was a poor choice, that was offensive and tasteless. I have asked my publisher to remove the passage from digital versions of the book immediately and from all future printings.
Those of you who have read Summer of ’69 will realize Anne Frank was a courageous young woman whom I revere, and her story remains deeply influential in my life.
I always strive to write in good faith. Golden Girl is a novel I wrote for my children and I want them to be proud of every word. Thank you. I love you all.
[h/t Publishers Weekly]