There is something to be said for rereading books from our youth even if the stack of newly published tomes and classics we never got to seems to get higher as we get older. But take “The Diary of Anne Frank”, for example. And please, stop cringing now and give me some latitude.
I remember well my first copy, a small paperback with a black and white photo of Anne’s face on the front – I was thirteen and I assume that wasn’t my first introduction to World War II and its atrocities but I am sure it was my first foray into Holocaust literature. At the time, I was taken and moved and saddened by the story of a girl my age who kept a diary while in hiding. Two years of words poured on the page, with a plot that, for all intents and purposes, was going nowhere and the ending a foregone conclusion. I was hooked nonetheless, without fully comprehending why and reread it many times while still young but I couldn’t really get past the single story being a real life metaphor for the destiny of millions of others.
The little paperback sat on my shelves for as long as I can remember and it’s probably still in the boxes packed in my mother’s garage, together with the other books I didn’t bother to take with me when I left home. In the last few years, probably on a recurrence of some sort, new editions of “The Diary of Anne Frank” have been republished, some annotated, some with photos that Otto Frank made available and one with a foreword by Miep Gies, the lady who originally found the diary and eventually returned it to Otto Frank, the only surviving member of the eight hidden in the Amsterdam “annex”. Most interesting of all is the unabridged edition that was recently printed. As a child myself, I had no knowledge that Anne’s father had edited his daughter’s words, especially the passages relating to her physical desire for Peter and the most catty remarks about her family.
What jumps out of the pages while rereading this slim book is Anne’s power of observation, her uncanny and mature ability to lay bare and coherently her inner feelings, the turmoil of a changing body and mind, her lust for knowledge, her curiosity. Her writing is fresh and precise still after all this time – it keeps you hooked not because of a need to know what happens next but, rather, to see how her mind will unfurl, what more details she can convey about her family, the boy she has grown to like and his parents and the annoying dentist she has to share a bedroom with.
Anne knew she wanted to be a writer and embraced the spirit of being 100% true to her feelings and how she saw things within the constricting walls of her captivity, letting the chips fall where they may. Had she lived, she would have turned into an excellent writer. Had she lived, I still think she would have consented to her diary being published, on the strength of its own merit. With her giving book tours to boot.