“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn't stop you from having your own opinion.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Sometimes when I'm browsing through the list of Kindle books that I can borrow from my local library, I see a book that I quickly dismiss because I've already heard too much about it or surely I've read that book before, it's so famous. Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young Girl was one of those books. I mean, we all know how it ends. We all know the general storyline of what Anne must be writing about. I had even taught the play version to my eighth grade English class and helped my students do research on Anne and the Holocaust. I've watched multiple movies about Anne and her family. It's safe to say, I knew a lot about Anne and her story already.
But I downloaded the diary because I realized I'd been getting a secondhand version of the story every other time. That didn't make those versions untrue, I just wanted a fresh perspective.
My mom and I share this love of reading, but one area we differ in is that she hates diary style books. Bridget Jones nearly killed her. I enjoy a first person perspective. I like seeing things from one character's point of view and wondering if we're getting an accurate story or something a little more biased. To me, it makes the story more unpredictable and also more personal. In the case of Anne, it certainly made her story more personal.
We all know the story. Anne, her family, and another family go into hiding together in an attic (quite a large attic) to avoid the Nazis in Holland. What I found remarkable was the timing of Anne's start to writing. She starts the diary when it is given to her for her thirteenth birthday. This also happens to be right before the family goes into hiding. So we get a few entries about life at school, Anne's friends (who is cool and who is just so annoying!), and how frustrating it is to deal with her mother.
“Although I'm only fourteen, I know quite well what I want, I know who is right and who is wrong. I have my opinions, my own ideas and principles, and although it may sound pretty mad from an adolescent, I feel more of a person than a child, I feel quite indepedent of anyone.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
It is about as typical as a thirteen year old girl's diary could possibly be. That's what makes it so real.
Real life characters, but characters all the same. I think Anne's story has been built up so much, that she's become more of a symbol of the innocent Jewish lives that were lost and we've lost track of who Anne really was. That was definitely true for me because I was fairly surprised when I read the many pages about Anne hating her mother, complaining that nobody understood her or paid any attention to her except to criticize her. Again, this really isn't all that surprising to find in a teenager's diary, but I think every quote I've read from Anne comes from the last ten entries. If you search for Anne Frank quotes, you will think she was a saint and in fact, she was very mischievous and prone to outbursts of anger. These people were in hiding for YEARS (I don't think the enormity of that ever sunk in when I studied the play in middle school), crucial years of Anne's growing up. So naturally, there are a lot of angry entries expressing frustration and boredom with the situation. Then there are the entries that show their fear and those are much harder to read. A bump in the night is enough to keep Anne awake all night with fear that they've been found. It's a kind of fear I can't understand and nobody should.
“Where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition
The sad part to me is that by the time Anne is fifteen and maturing, she is getting more and more optimistic. I don't mean to imply that she is all angst and bitterness throughout this diary. She's definitely not and has a more positive outlook on her situation than I would have. But by the end of the diary, the families are hearing news of D-day and other positive events that reinvigorate the family with hope. That was the saddest part for me to read as I got closer and closer to the end of the book, knowing it was about to abruptly end.
Who Will Like This Book?
You have to appreciate the nature of diaries to read this book. Anne writes things that even she regrets, adding little notes later about what she thinks in hindsight. So if you can't appreciate a little self-indulgence (which diaries are really made for. I should know, that's all a blog really is), then you should probably be wary. But I don't think there's anyone who could read this diary without feeling the tragedy of it all. It's the everydayness of years of writing about the war's impact on this one family that makes you think of the millions of families in similar positions. Anne often remarks that they are the lucky ones in hiding and sadly, she is right, for a while anyway.
If you want a true understanding of who Anne really was, this is the only way to get it. I always connect more strongly with history when I have a person or character to see it through and reading this did that for me. I don't know who WOULDN'T recommend reading Anne's diary at some point in your life, but it certainly isn't going to be me!