Anne Frank –
The Book, The Life, The Afterlife
By Francine Prose
Atlantic Books – £16.99
I’ve often found myself contemplating the many similarities between Anne Frank and my Dutch mother. Not only are they strikingly similar in appearance and born a mere two years apart from one another, they also spent their teenage years growing up in occupied Amsterdam during the 1940s. As a result, they both garnered a profound, resilient, all round deeply entrenched and enthralled spirit – the likes of which to this day, remains as equally priceless, as it does beyond explanation and comprehension.
Luckily for my mother, and eventually her four offspring, there the similarities fundamentally end.
Nine months before the Allies liberated Holland in May 1945, my mother and her entire family were in the throes of impending starvation – otherwise known as the Hunger Winter of 1944 – while the fifteen-year-old Anne Frank was deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where she died shortly thereafter of starvation and typhoid. That she wrote a diary that has since been translated into countless languages – as well as deciphered and deconstructed the entire world over – has ensured that Anne Frank, two simple words of one syllable each, is almost as renowned and recognised throughout the planet, as that of Jesus, Shakespeare, and, ironically, the deranged lunatic, ultimately responsible for her death, Hitler. And like these icons of history, Anne Frank too, has had many papers, essays, dissertations and books written about her life and her work, of which this most recent edition by Francine Prose, is a rather unmitigating, if not exhilarating read.
Anne Frank – The Book, the Life, the Afterlife is a success on a number of fronts, most notably that of an introductory persuasion. For those not really in the know but who’d like to be, these 277 pages serve as a top-notch, clearly defined prolegomenon, to that of a life which warrants as much study and crucial understanding, as those mentioned above; even if only to attempt coming to terms with our ever changing selves: ‘’Trying to remember the psychological and spiritual contortions we put ourselves through, when we were young, is as difficult as trying to summon back our astonishment at how quickly our bodies were changing […]. Perhaps more than any other book, Anne’s diary reminds us of what that bewilderment and yearning were like. Meanwhile the diary entries become a sort of mirror in which teenagers male and female, can see themselves – a capsule description of the alienation, the loneliness, and the torrents of free-floating grief that define adolescence in twentieth-century Western culture.’’
Just like many musicians who have addressed the ever recurring/changing, manifestations of youth over the years – such as The Who’s Pete Townshend, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain (who, unlike the book’s protagonist, struggled with who he was, who he became, and as such, embraced self-loathing to such a degree that it killed him) and more recently, The Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner – Anne Frank was evidently as forthright in her writing(s), as she was in her moral obligation(s) in the sharing thereof.
Is it any wonder that her ‘’diary is among the most frequently banned or challenged books in American libraries and schools?’’
Challenging yet wonderfully precise, unsentimental yet woefully delicate, I’m hard pressed to think of any other book I’d be sooner be reading, as yet another year comes to yet another close.