Today is Remembrance Sunday so I thought it a fitting time to post a review that I’ve been working on for a while now.
(For those not in the UK, the Sunday closest to the 11th November (Armistice Day) is a day marked by services to commemorate the sacrifices made by those who were a part of World War I and II.)
Recently I reread The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.
Reading this book is a slightly surreal experience. On the one hand it reads like the diary of any teenage girl from anywhere in time or space. And on the other it is one of the most poignant pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered and a vitally important documentation of one of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen.
Anne Frank was 13 when she was forced to go into hiding with her family in Amsterdam. Some of the lucky few, they had managed to arrange rooms in a secret annexe at Otto Frank’s office where they, the van Daan* family and Mr Dussell* hoped to wait out the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. They’d even managed to squirrel away much of their furniture and belongings so that the annexe was a relatively comfortable hiding place. Taking her most treasured possession – her diary – with her, Anne prepared to wait until it was safe to be a Jew again.
Like any 13 year-old Anne’s principle complaint about her life is that nobody understands her. Her parents and sister are a tight-knit family unit whereas she is always on the outside, the forgotten one who no one really loves. Who didn’t say that at least once or twice during their adolescence? The early teenage years are a time of turmoil for all of us and much and the trials and tribulations of a normal adolescent are reflected in Anne’s diary. Apart from the issue of whether her family really love her there’s the worry that she’ll never find true love as well as the confusion and moodiness that are all part of puberty.
But this is not a normal adolescence and where it gets surreal is when Anne mentions the war. Tales of bombings on the other side of town, the reports of advancing British soldiers she hears on the radio or, most poignantly of all, the day she writes of watching some of Amsterdam’s remaining Jews being marched through the city.
The book is perfused with sadness and it is so painful to read of Anne’s hopes and dreams for a future that we all know she will never have but sometimes amid the family squabbles and lists of remaining foodstuffs it is easy to forget that a bloody war is raging around them. It’s a horrifying clash of the banal and the unheard of and the fact that these two scenes occur side-by-side is what gives Anne’s story its unique appeal, and makes it such a valuable tool for reminding us of the human cost of war.
*names were changed and differ depending on the version you read but these are the ones used in my copy.