Friday 22 November 2013

The Diary of a Young Girl

I'd been meaning to read Anne Frank's diary for many years. It was clearly a rather large omission to have not read it before this. But there was nothing like an upcoming trip to Amsterdam for the first time to get me there finally.

I started off reading this book out loud to Master Wicker as our night time reading. He didn't enjoy it from the outset (not nearly enough dystopian fantasy world for him, and no aliens, all major drawbacks), and it was hard going as a read aloud book. Which in turn made the reading drag. I did enjoy it much more after I gave up on the read aloud aspect (we switched to The Hunger Games which had a much more favourable reception) and just read it for myself.

Anne Frank and her diary are justifiably very famous. Anne and her family spent two years in hiding, living in cramped, crowded conditions in a factory annexe in Amsterdam during World War II. Of course Anne famously didn't survive the war, so the end is no mystery, but it's such an important story to tell.

I feel dreadful that I didn't love this rather beloved book. Even more because I didn't really like Anne's voice. I didn't like Anne all that much actually, which makes it difficult to read her first person narrative. I was interested in her plight of course, in everything she had to say, her descriptions of her experience of the war, and her living conditions and her moods. I feel my lack of enjoyment was more a failing on my part than hers.

It was shocking to read the limitations of freedom begin.

After May 1940 the good times were few and far between: first there was the war, then the capitulation and then the arrival of the Germans, which is when the troubled started for the Jews. Our freedom was severely restricted by a series of anti-Jewish decrees: Jews were required to wear a yellow star; Jews were required to turn in their bicycles; Jews were forbidden to sue trams; Jews were forbidden to ride in cars, even their own: Jews were required to do their shopping between 3.00 and 5.00 pm; Jews were required to frequent only Jewish-owned barbershops and beauty salons; Jews were forbidden to be out on the streets between 8.00pm and 6.00am; Jews were forbidden to go to theatres, cinemas or any other forms of entertainment; Jews were forbidden to use swimming pools, tennis courts, hockey fields or any other athletic fields; Jews were forbidden to go rowing; Jews were forbidden to take part in any athletic activity in public; Jews were forbidden to sit in their gardens or those of their friends after 8.00pm; Jews were forbidden to visit Christians in their homes; Jews were required to attend Jewish schools, etc. You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that, but life went on. 

I was really surprised to read Anne writing quite knowledgeably about what would later be called the Holocaust in August 1942.

If it's that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilised places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they're being gassed. Perhaps that's the quickest way to die. 

I hadn't known that these things were actually known during the war. I'd thought that it was only after the war that people found out what had been happening. It was terrible reading Anne's descriptions of the privations of the family's time in hiding. The radio was constantly on as the families listen desperately for news and updates. The boredom, the fears of disease, of discovery, of destruction from falling bombs, and the terrible, rotting food.

It was heartbreaking to see Anne's moods over time, as she was robbed of her liberty, and her youth, and eventually of course her life.

I wander from room to room, climb up and down the stairs and feel like a songbird whose wings have been ripped off and who keeps hurling herself against the bars of its dark cage. 

And yet somehow Anne remains optimistic til the end.

It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.

Anne wanted to be a writer and journalist and she's done that.

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!

Anne is still living after her death. Her thoughts and words are still alive in the 21st century. And still worth reading.

See some photos from my visit to Anne Frank Huis.


Jeanie said...

I haven't read this book since I was in middle school and of course I fell in love with it and the movie and play. I remain so. But that is through the lens of memory. It would be curious to read it as an adult. I see your other post on the house and I'm anxious to read it and see how it connected with my feelings about visiting what I consider sacred space.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

There is something miraculous about reading the diary. You go back instantly in time and space.

Hyacinth Marius said...

Anne Frank's story is one of my favorites. I am studying to become an elementary teacher, and I needed to order this book for my classroom library. Simply timeless.
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