Monday, February 21, 2011

Anne Frank: The book, the life, the afterlife by Francine Prose

This interesting book re-introduces Anne Frank as an intelligent, observant writer and her diary as a work of art.  The author divides her book into three sections -- the life, the book, and the afterlife -- and devotes a final section to teaching the diary in classrooms and college.  The book made me want to attempt to tackle the diary in the classroom again -- the closest I got was showing a film called Anne Frank Remembered (a more complete version of her story than other documentaries) as part of a non-fiction unit.  It is a complex work, though, and putting it in historical context is difficult.  Reading the diary as a whole is something I've never really done -- I've been informed mostly by a dramatic version I saw in high school and excerpts from various textbooks and study books, and I agree with the author of this book that the play oversimplifies the realities of Anne's life and the reasons she was in hiding.  I may go back to the original diary and read it if I get a chance now.  Reading this book inspires a healthy respect for Anne Frank as an author with a self-conscious desire to be published.  A key revelation in the book is that Anne Frank herself went back and revised her diary, intending it to be published at some point.  She recognized that, even if she were "an oridinary girl" in extraordinary circumstances, her story has relevance beyond the walls of her "secret annex."  Her observations of herself and her companions in the annex make for vivid stories, and they symbolize what was lost in the Holocaust in very personal terms.  But beyond that, the work of her diary is to record the humanity and civility of a group of people, the vast majority of whom did not survive the Holocaust, and to document in terms of daily life the privations they endured.  She also explores herself and wishes for things to be different than they are, as most adolescents do, but in a specific context that crystallizes her wishes in very concrete ways.  The fact that her final entry, in which she wonders what she would be like if there were no one else in the world, is her final entry, reminds us that her story ended not in the way she wished but in Bergen-Belsen, a horror of horrors.  It is not enough to wonder what kind of writer Anne Frank might have been had she lived; rather, we have to wonder at the kind of writer she already was, and at the inhuman extermination edicts that placed her in such difficult conditions.  Anne Frank is not an easily reduced author.  She is not the poster-child for optimism that is represented in the play and film versions of her diary, nor is she a saint or a sex-obsessed teenager, as some have made her out to be.  Instead, she is a human being, a Jew, an author who lives on in her work.  That message came through in clear, direct language in Prose's book, and I am grateful for the portrait she offers of Anne Frank, the author.
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