Genre: Autobiography, monologic epistolary work
Similar to: Pretty much a one-off
Could be enjoyed by: Everyone – it’s such an important book
Publication date: 25th June 1947
This book broke me. Literally – ugly crying. Mascara everywhere. Don’t read the last two pages with makeup on.
I’m sure you’re all aware of Anne Frank and her famous diary but just in case you’re not, I’ll briefly summarise it for you. Anne and her family were German Jews who had moved to Amsterdam to escape Nazi persecution during the Second World War. Unfortunately, as the war progressed and The Netherlands became occupied by Germany, the family went into hiding. They lived with another family and one single man in what Anne called ‘The Annex’ – the top three floors of a factory with an entrance concealed by a bookshelf. Anne’s letters to her fictional friend Kitty form the contents of her diary, where she recorded her life in The Annex.
I’d never read this book before and had always assumed that it would be a bleak, harrowing tale of starvation, worry and appalling living conditions. But that’s not what it’s like at all. Firstly, the Frank family seemed to be relatively well off before they went into hiding so were able to afford enough basics on the black market to ensure they didn’t starve. Secondly, The Annex was much bigger than I imagined – far from being a cramped, damp cellar I was surprised to see that they had access to number of different rooms, beds, a toilet, an area for cooking etc. Thirdly, I had forgotten that the diary is written by a teenage girl. No offense to teenage girls – after all, I did used to be one myself – but I’d simply forgotten that your world view at fourteen is almost exclusively centered around yourself. As such, there are far fewer mentions of concern about the War, worries about food/money/health and much more teenage angst than I’d bargained for.
That’s not to say that the diary isn’t harrowing in places, or that Anne is completely unaware of the danger that she’s in. She’s simply your average teenager; slightly self obsessed, slightly delusional, outspoken and melancholy and full of hormones. Basically, she was exactly like I was when I was her age.
This made me empathise with Anne in a way that I hadn’t expected. I completely understood her bold claims, her introspection, her life-is-so-unfair-and-I-hate-you attitude to her Mum (let’s be honest, her life was pretty unfair although I don’t think her Mum had much to do with it). Anne’s obsession with the boy upstairs (Peter) took me right back to my teenage crushes and I had to laugh at her attitude towards making him fall in love with her.
All of this meant that I really, really liked her. Anne had a real gung-ho, make the most of it attitude towards life that I really respected. I loved how she stood up for herself, how clever she was, even her continual attempts to make herself a better person and her ability to see how much she’d changed during her time in hiding. I loved her characterisation of the people that she lived with and her scathing assessment of their flaws – Mrs. Van Daan was a personal favourite. I think that if I’d met Anne at fourteen, I would have liked to have been her friend.
As I got closer to the end of the book, the sense of foreboding which had been with me throught my reading increased. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Anne, her family and the other people that were living in The Annex were discovered by the Nazis and sent to concentration camps. There were just no words when I read the horrific way that each invidual had been treated and the subsequent manner of death for all of them except for Otto Frank, Anne’s Dad. To learn that they had all perished mere weeks before the liberation of the camps was especially upsetting.
In an era when White Supremacy, Neo-Nazis and Holocaust denial is on the rise, it would be lovely to think that a long-dead teenage girl might be able to change the mindset of some seriously misinformed people.
Rating: 🌟Five “Dear Kitty”s out of five🌟
Poignant, deeply affecting but amazingly lighthearted – an incredibly important book to read.
Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #1 Read a book published posthumously.