Notting Hill Editions was launched in 2011 to revive the art of essay writing, producing elegant, small books containing such subject matter as Deborah Levy’s response to George Orwell’s Why I Write. Now, they have widened the format, with Alison Leslie Gold’s Found and Lost. Gold is best known for co-writing Anne Frank Remembered with Miep Gies, who helped hide Anne Frank and her family from the Gestapo, and preserved her diary.
As a child, Gold supervised her school’s “Lost and Found” office. In a similar vein, she sets out to archive stories, following the deaths of her close friends and family members, to write her way through her grief. Her book largely consists of letters interspersed with random recollections — “rye bread slices stacked, half a loaf.” And, though that creates a piecemeal kind of narrative, reading letters is a rare treat in times of Twitter.
Gold describes how growing up during the Cold War gave her a sense of doom, fearing both nuclear war and the KKK. We learn about her love life, her escapades. On one of her travels, she finds accents in the American South “as thick as syrup”.
Then, we observe her descent into alcoholism. A large part of the book is a tribute to Gold’s life-long mentor Lily Mack, who brings her copious amounts of food and recites poetry during Gold’s rehab.
What made Gold re-engage with life was meeting Miep and Jan Gies, and the ensuing responsibility she felt in telling their story. When she climbed the stairs to their apartment, she observes: “The colourless, odourless, tasteless, flat grey slid away; I was back, fully awake; my sober senses, in full colour, were aroused in a way they had never been before.” We learn that Miep Gies lived beyond the age of 100 and kept a portrait of Anne Frank on her wall. She strongly believed that she “didn’t do anything special. We did only what needed doing in a situation that was unjust. Many, many people here in Holland did what we did, even did more.”
Some of the letters are from Gold’s readers — one asks her how to write around the holes she finds in her own research into the experiences of a survivor who escaped from a concentration camp and freed 300 people from cattle wagons. Gold tells her she should go “where the story takes place, and look for yourself, find survivors of the time,” she adds — “you’d best hurry.”
Even today, Anne Frank’s case is not closed. In October 2017, a retired FBI agent launched a review to find out who betrayed the hiding place of Anne Frank and her family in 1944. The findings will be revealed in 2019.
Marina Gerner is a freelance writer