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The Diary of a Young GirlThe Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“12th June 1942: I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support…”

Written on her thirteenth birthday, this fateful phrase marks the beginning of Anne Frank’s diary. What follows are witty, humorous sketches of daily life, petty arguments and numerous school-girl crushes that quickly turn into a vivid account of survival, doubt and hope. This opening sentence has haunted many readers who have come to know Anne through her candid confessions. The multi-faceted irony of it has a prophetic ring, as Anne was blissfully unaware of the cruel passage of time that would add a ten-fold weight to its meaning. It was also a powerful pact, as Anne kept her promise right until the end to record everything that happened.

The diary is a great source of comfort to its spirited owner, as she turns to it (sometimes daily) to pour forth the turmoil in her heart, of her tentative hopes and fears for the future, and to map out and ponder her ever-growing questions of love, self and family.

As I read on, I realised the book was more than just an unusual perspective of the war. It is at once a snap-shot of awkward adolescence, a record of one persons growing social conscience and political awareness as well as an example of human endurance. Especially during the last months of the diary, Anne did a lot of soul-searching, trying to make sense of the situation she was in. What emerged was a startling voice that is as mature as it is full of the spirit of defiant youth.

“We’ve been strongly reminded of the fact that we’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand obligations. We must put our feelings aside; we must be brave and strong, bear discomfort without complaint, do whatever is in our power and trust in God… We can never be just Dutch, or just English, or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. And we’ll have to keep on being Jews, but then, we’ll want to be.”

Anne’s sharp prose is peppered with clever, off-hand comments about the various ill-tempered residents of the secret annexe. Apart from her own family (father Otto, mother Edith and sister Margot) there are the van Daans and the dentist Albert Dussel. For two years Anne makes it her business to record the chemistry of the eight people living in the annexe. Her most eye-opening accounts are those that capture the domestic arguments and the increasingly unbearable atmosphere of having to live with others at such close quarters. Indeed, a teenagers worst nightmare is lack of privacy, and it’s here where Anne suffers most, often yearning for solitude and finding her diary to be her only consolation. Among the many talents that Anne hones during her confinement, is an eye for relationship dynamics. The following is an especially witty account of how to get along with annoying neighbours:

“You can win Mr. van Daan over to your side by agreeing with him, listening quietly, not saying much and most of all… responding to his teasing and his corny jokes with a joke of your own. Mrs. van D. can be won over by talking openly to her and admitting when you’re wrong. She also frankly admits her faults, of which she has many.”

As time goes by, the reader witnesses Anne growing up, becoming more independent in her views of herself and others. This bright young girl takes us into her confidence, as she complains unashamedly about her mother and sister. Ever ‘Daddy’s little girl’, she casts her father in a favourable light often comparing everyone to him, only to find them fall short. Then there’s also the tentative love affair between her and Peter van Daan that also fills up most of her thoughts and becomes a great source of excitement. In these moments however, I have found that Anne comes across as a highly opinionated brat that is often very quick to pass judgement on others with little thought to her own shortcomings. This is most evident when she writes about her mother, Edith, belittling her in ways that made it uncomfortable to read. But even Anne sees the error of her ways.

“This morning, when I ha nothing to do, I leafed through the pages of my diary and came across so many letters dealing with the subject of ‘mother’ in such strong terms that I was shocked. I said to myself, ‘Anne, is that really you talking about hate? Oh, Anne, how could you?”

I think the most heartbreaking thing about reading Anne’s diary is that we know that all those in the annexe will inevitably be betrayed, caught and sent to various concentration camps. As I drew closer to the end my mind began drifting to thoughts of an Anne that did survive the war, imagining her as a journalist, a writer or a human rights lawyer. I could see her as a career woman, a leading example to her sex. And when I’d finished the diary, I had already made up my mind that Anne was far from dead.

“I don’t want to have lived in vain like most people. I want to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!”

I remembered this short passage she wrote (again, ironic in its prophetic undertone) and realised that her wish had come true. Throughout her diary, Anne writes to her imaginary friend ‘Kitty’. But Kitty long since ceased to be a mere writers’ placebo. For over 66 years every one of Anne’s readers have become ‘Kitty’, including me. By reading this journal I have re-discovered the joys of autobiographies, because no personal account as ever moved me as much as Anne’s. I felt like I was in the presence of a special literary talent. Had she lived, Anne Frank would have gone on to be successful in writing, as her personality alone shows that she was a force to be reckoned with. For sure, she would still have been the voice for every Jew who suffered during the war.

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