Most of us were required to read her diary in elementary school. Most of us may think we know how the story goes, or some of us may not remember a thing. I’ve seen the play, I think I’ve seen the movie, but I’m embarrassed to report that this is the first time I’m picking up the book outside of a classroom. If you haven’t read The Diary of a Young Girl, or have and can’t quite remember how the story goes, please pick up a copy.
This isn’t exactly a book review, but rather a praising of one of the finest young authors I’ve ever read; a young girl who was passing two years of her life in hiding from the Nazis, writing about breakfast, her parents, her sister, her dreams in a post-war world. It’s an inspiration for my own writing, a reminder to put more of myself into what I write, and a heart-breaking glimpse into the lives of a Jewish family leading up to their capture.
I picked up my disheveled copy over at Amazon.com for about $5.00. The pages have yellowed, there’s a stamp inside the cover that reads: “WEST HARRISON COMMUNITY SCHOOLS. PISGAH, IOWA”, and as I flipped through the pages an ad for a coffee maker from 1985 fell out. Even better.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s Introduction sums things up perfectly: “Anne’s diary is an appropriate monument to her fine spirit and to the spirits of those who have worked and are working still for peace. Reading it is a rich and rewarding experience.”
I have to agree.
Reading Anne’s diary is heart wrenching from page one. I recently read an entry regarding conflict in story-telling, on Albert Berg’s Unsanity Files (check it out). Berg referred to Alfred Hitchcock’s “bomb under the table” example about suspense and surprise: the audience is aware there is a bomb under the table that is about to explode, but the characters are completely unaware. The audience is on the edge of their seats.
Anne’s first diary entry talks about her birthday. Most know, even before reading the book for the first time, that Anne and her family are eventually captured by the Nazis. It gives her daily descriptions of life and love and growing up a very solemn feeling.
She was intelligent, opinionated, witty, and completely unaware that she was creating something that would define an era. Read it. Read it and constantly remind yourself that it’s not a work of fiction. Don’t just read it because it’s good – read it because you should.
Monday, 28 September, 1942
I had to stop yesterday, long before I’d finished. I just must tell you about another quarrel, but before I start on that, something else.
Why do grownups quarrel so easily, so much, and over the most idiotic things? Up till now I thought that only children squabbled and that that wore off as you grew up. Of course, there is sometimes a real reason for a quarrel, but this is just plain bickering. I suppose I should get used to it. But I can’t nor do I think I shall, as long as I am the subject of nearly every discussion (they use the word “discussion” instead of quarrel). Nothing, I repeat, nothing about me is right; my general appearance, my character, my manners are discussed from A to Z. I’m expected (by order) to simply swallow all the harsh words and shouts in silence and I am not used to this. In fact, I can’t! I’m not going to take all these insults lying down, I’ll show them that Anne Frank wasn’t born yesterday. Then they’ll be surprised and perhaps they’ll keep their mouths shut when I let them see that I am going to start educating them. Shall I take up that attitude? Plain barbarism! I’m simply amazed again and again over their awful manners and especially… stupidity (Mrs. Van Daan’s), but as soon as I get used to this – and it won’t be long – then I’ll give them some of their own back, and no half measures. Then they’ll change their tune!
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
First published in 1947 in Holland under the title Het Achterhuis.