This is a book that should need no introduction, but for the very few who don’t know: Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. She and her family had to go into hiding in a secret annex and Anne kept a diary about her life there. Very sadly, Anne would go on to become a victim of the Holocaust, along with the majority of her family.
Anne expressed several times throughout the book that she wants to be a writer and that she would like to turn her diary into a published record of her experiences and it’s good to know that her word actually got out and became such a huge success, though of course the circumstances under which it happened were heart-breaking.
I’ve seen some people claim that Anne’s diary is ‘boring’ and that it’s just about teenage angst and the day to day squabbles and tensions of the families who found themselves thrust together. I never found it boring myself, but I think that these people are kind of missing point. I feel that what this book does a superb job of highlighting is that the victims of the Holocaust were regular people just like you or I.
Indeed, even though Anne Frank and I are very different people who have lead enormously different lives, as I was reading, I related to her. She dealt with the same frustrations and reflections that we all do and where she succeeded as a writer was in capturing the very essence of her personality in words. Often I thought she had some very intelligent reflections to make about herself and the world, especially for her age.
Sometimes she writes about the horrible realities of life in hiding, while other times she writes her thoughts about the people she’s living with and highlights things that she likes or dislikes. It just goes to show how the human spirit can preserver and get used to even the most horrible of circumstances.
I was particularly surprised by the chapters where she talks about her sexuality. At one point, she mentions that she finds herself drawn to the naked female body and says that she wishes that she had a girlfriend. I have never seen Anne Frank described as an historic queer figure before and I think that that’s a shame, because I think that’s pretty significant. It highlights that the LGBT community were also victims of the Holocaust and is valuable as an historic account of a queer person’s experiences, which I don’t believe we see enough of.
At times, the book could be difficult to read. From time to time, Anne begins to wonder about what her life will be like once the Nazis have been defeated. Despite moments of despair, she remains quite optimistic throughout and holds on to a vision of her future and it’s upsetting to know that she was never allowed to fulfil her dreams or live her life to its natural end. I think the most difficult part of all was just when it suddenly ends – I found myself unable to stop imagining what must have happened next and what must have been going through her mind. It was horrible – but it’s something everybody should read. It’s a cliché to say, but if history is forgotten, we are doomed to repeat it.
As this book is a diary, and therefore very intimately written, I found myself growing very fond of Anne. It genuinely felt like I knew her and I admired her for her optimism, progressive attitudes and her desire to write. Ultimately, I think of her as a very inspirational figure and her murder at the hands of the Nazis robbed the world of a truly wonderful person and robbed an innocent girl of her bright future.
Before reading this, I had learned in school that some people question the legitimacy of this book, claiming that Anne didn’t really write it, that it was written after the fact etc. I didn’t think it was that likely, but since it was taught in school, I thought I’d so a bit of research before reading. As it happens, the source of these claims are holocaust deniers and in actuality the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation did a forensic investigation into the original documents in 1980 in order to determine whether or not they were legitimate and found that, yes, it was all real. I felt it was important to mention that here, because in comment sections around the internet, I find people even now who think that this was faked and it’s a shame that people with harmful intentions have successfully damaged the impact of this book to some extent.
The only real criticism of the book that I really agree with, is those who claim that it is somewhat exploitive. I think it’s good that the book has been published and Anne does say herself that she hopes for it to be published in future. However, some of it is very obviously private stuff – for example, at one point she explores her genitals and describes her impressions. I’m not so sure that she’d have liked that to have been published. Reading this made me slightly uncomfortable – having said that, I can understand why it was kept it]n. Without the sections like these, the text less successfully captures every aspect of Anne. It does make her feel more ‘whole’ within the writing (if that makes sense), which then helps the book to more successfully achieve its goal, but I’m torn. I’m not saying that this then makes the whole book bad or unethical, but at very least, it is a bit dodgy.
My version of the book was translated by Susan Massotty and of course, every translation will be a little different, but I think it’s important that everybody try to read at least one version of it. We mustn’t forget the evil done to the Jewish people (and others) in the Holocaust. I know I usually like to give books a score out of ten when I review them, but it feels a little tasteless to do so here. This book stands for something that’s too important to be arbitrarily rated against other books – all I’ll say is that it has my highest recommendation. Anne Frank will always be a hero of mine – a symbol of hope and optimism, even in the darkest times.