I think the reason that I had left reading ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank for such a long time, or certainly put off by it for so long, was the fact I worried that I wouldn’t be moved by it and what that would say about me. The story behind the story, well true story behind the true story, of Anne Frank is probably as famous as the book itself, indeed it is why it is so well known. What would people think of me, and indeed what would I think of myself, if I read these diary entries and came away feeling nothing? Fortunately I haven’t had to ask myself those questions because whilst it didn’t have me weeping these diary entries have left an impression on me.
It seems slightly unnecessary to give any background to the story of ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank because I think most of us know it. Forced into hiding from the SS in 1942 as Jewish family in Amsterdam the Frank family move into the hidden annexe of a warehouse in order to escape the Nazi’s and the concentration camps of World War Two. Whilst in hiding the youngest daughter of the family, Anne, kept a diary of her life there until they were unfortunately found out – and I don’t think that is a spoiler considering the fact that Anne died in one of the concentration camps and that is what has made this story become so well known.
When I started the book I have to admit I didn’t think I was going to get on with it, which roughly translates to me not getting on with Anne Frank, people will be up in arms about that but bear with me. Anne Frank was a thirteen year old girl when she wrote what were her personal diaries and ones I am sure she had no intention of becoming read the way they are today, so they are going to be filled with flights of fancy, gossip about the girls at school she doesn’t like and the boys she does. I did feel so sad when I read that the reason she wanted a diary as she didn’t feel she had a true friend, though initially I thought I knew why that might be. As soon as I got my head accustomed to that, and the fact that (and she admits this herself in her diaries) she was rather a precocious young girl it all started to work and by about fifty pages in I started to really like Anne and was enjoying being party to her inner thoughts. I can see why this would be a very effective read for younger people of Anne’s age.
Anne was definitely wiser than her years. As the book goes on she matures, in part due to age and in part the situation and her insights into people is quite fascinating. I had no idea that the Frank family lived in such a large annexe, in my head it has always been that Anne and her family lived in a tiny box room rather than the two story annexe she describes, I also had no idea that they lived with another family, the van Daans, and a single man, Albert Dussel. The way Anne describes how they interact, the highs and lows of living with so many people in such small a space with no escape and how you never really know people until you live with them is fascinating, it’s also very claustrophobic. It’s her blunt young personality and way of describing her observations that do almost make you feel you are there with them all.
The second thing I didn’t expect was how funny ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ would be. Her observations and way of writing about her co-habitants, in particular berating and criticising Mrs van Daan who spends all her time criticising everyone else, are superb. These also make the darker moments, such as her fear during the bombing of Amsterdam and when they hear people in the warehouse below when no one should be there, become all the darker. I did get a little bit bored in the middle, but that is the whole point, Anne was bored to bits stuck with the same people and same routine day after day. It completes the picture of what it must have been like even if I was tempted to skim read – but I didn’t.
Obviously when you read what happened to the family that you have spent the time with its a very difficult thing to take on board. Something which I don’t think, no matter how great a fictional version of these events might be can ever truly captured like they are in a book like this. One of the saddest things for me about ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ for me was that Anne Frank clearly had a talent for writing; the way at such a young age she managed to make me almost feel I was with her in the annexe only shows what great talent could have been ahead. I think actually that might have been the most poignant thing for me about the whole experience of reading it. That mixed in with feeling like you really get to know Anne because it is such an open and honest account does leave you with a feeling of melancholy, but we need that don’t we, so we don’t forget what happened.