Friday, March 03, 2017

Memoir Review: The Diary of a Young Girl

After listening to and reading Anne Frank Remembered by Miep Gies, a woman who helped hide the Franks (highly recommended - my review at the link), I was so moved and inspired that I wanted to read more about Anne Frank and her ordeal, in her own words. I hadn’t read her diary since I was a teenager, so I grabbed my copy off the shelf and started reading it. Well, that copy used to be my mother’s and originally cost 35 cents, and as I tried to turn each page, it fell out! I ran to the library and grabbed another copy – which turned out to be slightly different – and re-read this astounding memoir that recounts both an extraordinary time in history and the ordinary adolescence of a teen girl.

Most people are familiar with Anne’s now-famous story. Her family were German Jews who moved to the Netherlands when it became dangerous to be a Jew in Germany. They lived in Amsterdam, where her father ran a business making kits and supplies for jam-making. The Germans occupied the Netherlands and began enforcing their rules to limits Jews there. Anne and her older sister, Margot, were attending an all-Jewish high school, per the Nazi rules, when Jewish friends began to get taken away to concentration camps, and the Franks realized they had to go into hiding. They moved into four small rooms at the back of Otto Frank’s office building, behind a hidden door, along with four other people. They stayed there for the next two years, while Anne grew from thirteen to fifteen.

Anne received the diary for her thirteenth birthday, shortly before they moved into hiding, and later wrote in additional notebooks or stacks of paper (paper was sometimes hard to come by). She wrote in her diary throughout the two years spent in the Annex, as their hiding place was nicknamed. Actually, she wrote to her diary, writing as though to an unseen friend named Kitty.

I tried to jump right into the library book where I left off in my own paperback, but I was confused by some changes, so I went back and read the foreword. It turns out that there are three different versions of Anne’s diary in print! Version a was her original, unedited version. In 1944, while in hiding, Anne heard a member of the Dutch government on the radio talking about the need for first-person accounts of the suffering of the Dutch people under German occupation, to be published and made available to the public after the war. As an aspiring writer, Anne decided that she would publish a book based on her diary after the war, so she went back through it (at age 15) and edited some earlier passages, improving the writing, deleting passages she thought were dull, and adding some extra passages from memory, in what is now known as version b. After the war, Otto Frank, Anne’s father, decided to comply with Anne’s wishes and publish the diary, and he selected passages from versions a and b for a shorter version, c, that was titled The Diary of a Young Girl. Also, some versions use pseudonyms for some of the people (which was quite confusing at first). I found this history of the book fascinating. So, it turns out the library book I had was version b, and I was likely reading version a or c before. I was disappointed to see that some language had been Americanized for this edition, though I enjoyed the more complete diary that included more personal and intimate details, as well as the photos included.

It had been over 35 years since I first read Anne’s diary, so I really didn’t remember much. What surprised me the most is that this memoir actually has two different but interwoven threads. There is the historical thread, as most people assume, that recounts her experience as a Jew in hiding during the Holocaust. Anne relays news of the war that they hear on the radio or from their helpers, including news of friends and neighbors being taken away. She describes the fear they feel, both those in hiding and those helping them to hide, the constant danger, and the scarcity of food and other supplies.

But this is not just a historical account. It really is, as the title says, the diary of a young girl. It’s a classic coming-of-age story, written in the first-person by a teen girl. I was shocked – and pleased – to read many passages in Anne’s diary that could have come directly from my own journals that I kept as a teenager (I really should get rid of those!). She was a normal teen – complete with angst, moodiness, crushes, and feeling that no one (especially her parents) understood her – in a very abnormal environment. It was comforting in a way to read this perfectly typical teenage diary from this girl who we think of as having suffered so much. Her feelings and thoughts were very normal in many senses for any adolescent, except that she was trapped in a tiny space with seven other people, with no girlfriends to confide in…so she confided in Kitty, her diary.

This normalcy set against the backdrop of such horrifying events and in such unusual circumstances is part of what makes Anne’s diary so powerful. We see clearly, as readers, that even during the most disturbing world events, life continues: children grow up, teen girls fight with their mothers, and adolescents yearn to discover the world and experience love. After more than 70 years, Anne’s words and her experiences are still just as moving and relevant. Even knowing how her story ends, it is still a compelling and captivating book.

I would love to visit the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam to see the Annex for myself. I imagine that must be a very moving experience, especially after reading these two books. I would also like to see one of the film adaptations…but there are so many of them to choose from! Any recommendations?

274 pages, Everyman’s Library

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Listen to a sample of the audiobook here, read by Selma Blair, and/or download it from Audible.


Here is one of several movie adaptations, this one available on Amazon Prime.


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  1. I just read something about her diary sat on a publisher's desk and was destined for a pile until another editor picked it up and the rest is history. Wow, close call.

    1. Wow! Serendipity, huh? There is a lot of info in the foreward about how it came to be published. Her father really agonized over the decision but knew it was what she wanted.