Today I’m here with a review of a recent classic: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I think this was my first time reading this book cover to cover. I’m pretty sure I’ve read excerpts in school growing up. But never completely before now.
There’s not many books from WWII that are more famous than Anne Frank’s diary. And for good reason. I haven’t read anything quite like Anne. And my main take away from finishing the complete diary is how important it is as a testament to this time.
I think Anne Frank’s diary is such an important historical artifact. Anne’s account of her 2 years hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam is full of raw emotions, realistic difficulties and arguments, and the day to day details of their difficult but not altogether unbearable life. There are things in this diary that we would not know about life in hiding or about Jewish opinions without Anne’s words. How grateful we should be that Meip and Bep gathered the scattered pages of Anne’s diary when those in hiding were arrested. I feel honored to read her words.
- This is a diary. I think the moments of melodrama or teenage angst make this more realistic. This is an authentic account of life hiding from the Nazis. It’s not sugar coated nor does it have a happy ending, but it’s real.
- I found it fascinating to read about how Anne’s diary came to be published. The way their helpers saved the pages for Anne’s father was so brave! And the journey he went on to publish it and defend it’s authenticity is surprising and impressive. I’m glad Otto Frank saved the building where the family lived; I hope to visit the Anne Frank House one day!
- I’m intrigued by the stage play about Anne’s experiences. It would be difficult to watch, but also I think rather beautiful.
According to Goodreads, “In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and surprisingly humorous, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.”
I was captivated by this book and also bored by it. Anne’s writing is engaging and she records details of her life in hiding with flair and teenage spunk. I could see the small rooms of the Secret Annex just as she described them. I could hear the conversations she narrates. I felt hunger, fear, and frustration with her. But there were also passages that felt too long. Especially in the second part of the book, things get repetitive. And I understand that life was repetitive. There wasn’t much going on besides her growing friendship with Peter. They ate what food they were brought. They listened to the radio broadcasts about the war. They were quiet during the day and overheating at night. And that was a good thing! They were alive and still free compared to those in the concentration camps. Life wasn’t exciting for them so the narrating of that life is also a bit bland at times.
It’s helpful for me to remember the genre of this book. This isn’t a novel with a central story that twists and turns. This is a diary with many thoughts of a teenage girl. I felt like Anne was a very typical teenager in a lot of ways. She has a difficult relationship with her parents. She’s self centered, rude, and sometimes explodes about the people she is forced to be with all the time. I don’t fault her for that. But I did wish that a few of her more intense entries about her mother or her changing sexual awareness had been kept more private–not censured but also not shared with the world. I wonder how much of her diary Anne wanted the world to read. I wonder if she had survived, would she want everything she thought and felt during this time–from her anger at her mother to her infatuation with Peter–to be out there in the world? I go back and forth in my thinking about the genre and what “should” have been published. Perhaps because she died, her full account is best because it stands as a testament to what the Jewish people had to go through. The pain, the destroyed childhoods, the fear, and the small moments of joy.
What makes this book so sad is that I knew the end before I started. I knew that Anne and her family are arrested and all but her father killed in the concentration camps. That is just heartbreaking to me. It was hard to read this book because you know that all the characters will be killed. You know that Anne won’t return to school, won’t get married, won’t be a journalist. It’s very sad. And that sadness affected my mood more generally as I read this book. I didn’t like feeling so sad. It’s a tough one to read although it’s also an important story to remember.
Overall, I have mixed emotions about The Diary of Anne Frank. I don’t think I will reread this book. It’s not one of my new favorites. But I am glad I read it. I am glad to remember this side of WWII. I’m glad that Anne wrote her diary and it was published. I am glad that I have gotten to know Anne Frank. And I hope we always remember her courage, fear, and hope.
What do you think about the diary of Anne Frank?
Which are some of your favorite WWII novels/biographies?