The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank
By Ellen Feldman
Norton, 264 pp., $23.95
In her diary, Anne Frank wrote these words of the boy who shared her two years in hiding: '[Peter] said that after the war he'd make sure nobody would know he was Jewish." This inventive novel takes his boast as its premise. Peter does not die in Mauthausen three days before its liberation. He makes his way to America and denies his past.
With apparent ease, Peter reinvents himself. He marries, fathers two daughters, succeeds as a real estate developer. His wife, herself a Jew, suspects nothing. Then Anne Frank's diary is published, rewritten as a play, released as a movie. Otto Frank becomes embroiled in an ugly, well-publicized lawsuit. Peter reluctantly but ineluctably finds himself drawn to these media events. Through them all, he maintains his imposture, although with more and more difficulty. He becomes fearful and suspicious, needing to confess, fearing exposure.
Ellen Feldman generates a fair amount of suspense from Peter's shaky hold on his disguise. She pays scant attention to the final solution to his dilemma, but she carefully and convincingly describes the strategies he employs to invent and pursue his false identity.
Evidence of Love
By Melissa McConnell
Harvest, 320 pp., paperback, $14
Intimacy and politics don't mix. Catherine works as a publicist and speechwriter for the vice president of the United States. Her fiancé, Harry, works as a special adviser to the president. Their jobs keep them so busy they have little time for each other. And Harry's job is so secret Catherine can only imagine what he actually does for the president. What she does for the recently widowed and lonely vice president changes from public service to private solace when Harry mysteriously disappears.
Discovering what Harry has actually been up to fuels the plot, but the real energy comes from the inside view of Washington, D.C. The novel provides answers to these questions: What entrance should you use to enter the White House? When should you show your credentials? What color ticket will admit you to the best inaugural balls? Where should you go to smoke on the White House grounds to avoid the security guards?
The contrast to the hectic buzz of Washington is the romantic haze of New York City, where Catherine and Harry fell in love. New York is walks in the rain, dancing at the Rainbow Room, buying photos from street vendors, making love, sleeping late. New York is as glitteringly unreal as Washington is grimly real. Being in or out of love remakes the landscape.
Medici Money: Banking, Metaphysics, and Art in Fifteenth-Century Florence
By Tim Parks
Norton, 273 pp., $22.95
The Medici bank was a successful enterprise for 97 years, from 1397 to 1494, with its central office in Florence and with branches in Brugge, London, Geneva, Milan, Avignon, Venice, Naples, Rome, Lyon, Pisa. The firm expanded its influence through five generations, rising swiftly to power and consolidating its wealth under the able administration of Cosimo, gaining greater political power while losing wealth under Lorenzo, ''Il Magnifico," and then collapsing under the incompetent stewardship of Piero di Lorenzo.
Of the many irreconcilable forces that beset the Medicis, the most difficult to control was the clash between commercial appetites and Christian morals. The Medicis wanted to assure their entry into heaven while engaging in sinful banking practices on earth. They believed themselves to be not only the inheritors of ancient Rome and its wise republicanism, but also citizens of the city of God. Despite the church's prohibition against the sin of usury, the Medicis found ways to lend money at interest, thereby acquiring a fortune, the political power that accompanies vast wealth, and the ability to bankroll ambitious artistic enterprises. Tim Parks ably describes the complicated intrigues involving popes, kings, and armies that allowed the Medicis to prosper. But the family machinations gain interest and generate excitement only when Cosimo and Lorenzo exercise the power not only of outrageous money but of outsize personality.
Barbara Fisher is a freelance critic who lives in New York.