Monday, August 3, 2009

The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition / Anne Frank -- NY: Doubleday, 1995.

I never had a strong desire to read Anne Frank's diary. Despite its popularity, I expected that too many entries would be the mundane musing of an adolescent girl. I was moved, however, to pick up the diary after visiting the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam. Simply occupying the space that once hid the Frank family and their fellow refugees made me curious about their lives.

I quickly found that the diary's reputation as a semi-sacred testament to the genocide of European jewry was overblown and that entry upon entry was markedly ordinary. I suspect that this would not come as a surprise to anyone more familiar with the work than I was. On only a few occassions did Anne write about the plight of Jews beyond her own conditions. At best, the diary is provides the tiniest glimpse into what Jews were experiencing through out Europe. Certainly, Anne's diary made it possible for people around the world to see deeply into the life of one of the millions of victims of the Nazi crimes, and to that extent, it humanized what might otherwise have been a bewildering story of unfathomable numbers and abstract horrors. Nonetheless, I was surprised at how divorced I felt from the holocaust while reading the diary.

I was, however, drawn into the work in a way that surprised me. More than a primary source for the study of the holocaust, Anne's diary is a fascinating look into the mental life of an adolescent girl struggling with her relationships with mother and father. Her entries deal largely with subjects that might preoccupy any young girl in 21st century America, though her thoughts and feelings were most likely heightened by the constant proximity of her fellow refugees. Nearly as interesting as her difficult relationship with her parents was her slowly developing romantic relationship with Peter van Dan.

In all, I was happy to have finally read a work that has come to be such an important part of the literary history of World War II, but it will remain low on my list of works to recommend for understanding the times in which Anne lived and died.

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