Author Elin Hilderbrand has come under fire for a passage in her new book that some readers on social media are calling anti-Semitic. The bestselling writer’s new book Golden Girls was published by Little, Brown on June 1. In it, character Vivian “Vivi” Howe plans to stay in the attic of her friend Savannah’s parents’ home on Nantucket.
As they debate whether or not to ask the parents for approval, Vivi makes reference to Holocaust victim Anne Frank, after which both characters laugh off the comment.
The passage reads: “’You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like…like Anne Frank?”
The narrator continues, “This makes them both laugh—but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”
On Instagram, readers criticized Hilderbrand and Little, Brown, calling the scene an example of “casual antisemitism” and demanding action from the publisher. “As a Jewish woman, one who lost 18 members of her family in the holocaust I’m disgusted in you as a publisher that you allowed that line to be published. It’s inexcusable,” Instagram user Cecile Leana wrote.
Hilderbrand responded to numerous complaints by telling readers she had sent them private messages, but also responded openly to at least one reader. “If you read my novel SUMMER OF ’69, you know that I absolutely REVERE the story of Anne Frank,” Hilderbrand wrote. “The line was not a throwaway quip. It was an expression of angst from someone who felt marginalized socioeconomically. But nonetheless if I offended you and/or anyone else, I owe you a huge apology.”
The author wrote that she had a sensitivity reader for the book who had not called attention to the passage. She added that she planned to ask her publisher to excise the passage from the e-book and future print editions.
After initial publication of this article, Hilderbrand posted a formal apology on Instagram. "I want to wholeheartedly apologize for this," she wrote. "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." Hilderbrand added that she wrote the book for her children. "I want them to be proud of every word," she wrote.
A major summer release, the book was widely praised in advance of its publication, including a favorable review by PW, and has a rating of 4.4/5 on Goodreads.
This article was been updated to include Hilderbrand's formal statement. An earlier version also incorrectly stated that the main character of the book was later killed in the story. The scene was instead a flashback after the character's death.