Anne Frank’s extraordinary diary, written in the Amsterdam attic where she and her family hid from the Nazis for two years, has become a world classic and a timeless testament to the human spirit.
“I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.”
Anne receives the diary as a birthday gift hoping it will become the one true friend she has never had. She begins a round of character assessments of her classmates which I will admit I initially thought was rude and then remembered to get off my adult high horse and remember vividly how I did the very same at that age. Anne is popular, outgoing, a class clown, a chatterbox, imaginative and a fireball. But Anne is never outwardly serious, and she admits that this is perhaps the reason why she has no real friends. Oh God, oh God, this reminded me so much of me in my teenage years which I have now thankfully shook off. I am not anyone’s entertainment, I am a human being and will be taken seriously!
“All I think about when I’m with friends is having a good time. I can’t bring myself to talk about anything but ordinary everyday things. We don’t seem to be able to get any closer, and that’s the problem. Maybe it’s my fault that we don’t confide in each other. In any case, that’s just how things are, and unfortunately they’re not liable to change. This is why I’ve started the diary.”
They go into hiding above Otto Frank’s workplace (Anne’s father) with the help of Mr Kugler, Mr Kleiman, Bep and Mies within the first 25 pages and the Van Daans join them soon after. Dussel joins the two families halfway through the book. I will admit that I got confused with the names of those who had hid the two families and Dussel and I couldn’t tell them apart. The Franks concocted a brilliant idea to deflect the suspicions of their neighbours and the relevant authorities. There is a description of the Secret Annexe which I found confusing and the visual aid provided didn’t help either. But I found this:
Despite the precariousness of the circumstances, Anne describes her daily life in a way that appears completely normal. The families continue taking their lessons and picking up new ones which as a reader was bewildering because we know what happens in the end but, in a sense, I saw it as a quiet defiance of the Nazi’s and an underlying optimism. Their fear is still a running current as throughout the book there are various instances of burglaries, some that are minor and a few that demonstrate how much danger the families were in and how easily they could get caught.
Anne’s writing focuses on her inner turmoil, ideals and how she sees her place in the world and in her family. This style of writing completely appealed to me as I’m more character-driven. I much prefer depth of emotion instead of sensory overload which I’m terrible at keeping track of.
She describes her relationships with the residents of the Annexe and makes various assessments of their character. It is very clear that she and Mrs Van Daan do not get along AT ALL. You can feel the hatred and the rage in the interactions between not just Anne and Mrs Van Daan but, also, Mrs Van Daan and the other residents. She’s the textbook desi aunty that we religiously avoid… now imagine being stuck in hiding with her and the migraine onslaught! She states during one occasion that she is “modest and retiring” which not only displays a terrible lack of logic (which modest person would say that?!) but a lack of self-awareness too. The first half is mostly disputes between the two families but, weirdly, I found myself enjoying them. Hey, maybe I do have the makings of a desi aunty then?
“I have no desire to be modest and retiring. In my experience, you get a lot further by being pushy!” And turning to me, he [Mr Van Daan] added, “Don’t be modest and retiring, Anne. It will get you nowhere.”
Other than this, Mr Van Daan isn’t often spoken about except for when the pair are arguing, or Mr Van Daan is making predictions about the war which Mrs Van Daan always challenges. In fairness to her, she was quite right until the very end.
Anne and her sister, Margot, is a relationship that’s hard to explain. There was a sibling rivalry, of course, for their parents’ affection and as Margot was the perfect child, Anne constantly felt dejected and misunderstood.
The relationship between mother and child is highly fraught. Anne was taken too seriously when she was light-hearted or as a joke when she was serious. It is clear that Anne wanted the firm, loving and understanding hand of a mother whereas Mrs Frank treated her children like they were friends which I, personally, didn’t agree with. There are plenty of friends to be had but only one mother.
Anne was eager to further develop the bond she shared with her father and desired that he loved her for Anne and not just because she was his child. She loved him the most but, for some odd reason, there was always something lacking. It never developed, and this became a constant source of worry for her. Perhaps, Anne wanted her one true friend to be her father? She wanted much more than he was simply not equipped to give causing her to become frustrated. Mr Frank realised that their constant nit-picking was getting too much for Anne and for her birthday, he wrote her a poem to request Anne to not take their nagging seriously especially in a place where they’re bound to lock heads which I found really lovely.
And Peter? Oh, Peter. You were hilarious! Peter was hypersensitive, stiff and shy but curious and rebellious in his own little ways such as when he stole the book he was forbidden to read. Anne did not like Peter at all first, she found him to be too awkward and uninteresting for companionship. He even used fancy words for the sake of elegance without even knowing what they meant such as the “RSVP – gas” sign placed in the toilet after having made a bit of a stink. Oh, dear.
“Yesterday he was beside himself with worry because his tongue was blue instead of pink. This rare phenomenon disappeared as quickly as it came.”
But it gave us this moment:
“This morning I lay on Peter’s bed, after first having chased him off it. He was furious, but I didn’t really care. He might consider being a little more friendly to me from time to time. After all, I did give him an apple last night.”
(See, I told you there was some lightness and humour in this book!)
They were able to accommodate another person called Dussel, a dentist, who resided in Anne’s room which I found weird considering she was a minor. He was a constant source of annoyance to the two families (and me). Worst of all, he didn’t show any gratitude to those who’ve helped him and seemed to be only concerned with taking care of number one even in moments where taking care of number one would be harming number one.
Halfway through the diary, Anne developed anxiety and depression for which she took medication. She noted that it wasn’t medication she needed, rather it was fresh air and laughter which were two things she didn’t have access to. Medication helps to an extent especially if anxiety stops you from sleeping but I do believe in the daytime, laughter is an effective medication.
Soon after, they began hearing reports of the war and what has happened to their neighbours. Mrs Frank advocated gratefulness for not being in such a horrible situation as those taken to concentration camps. Anne disagreed with this mindset because as she rightly pointed out: what if we do end up in that situation? Then, what should we do? It is still not tackling the issue. As a Muslim, we always get told that we should compare ourselves to people who have it worse, but I agree with Anne that instead of this line of thinking we should think about all the beautiful things that remain constant instead such as nature. Being in and watching nature has a healing effect. This is much better advice. Embrace the wave of emotions and then turn to nature and religion. Perhaps, it is a Ne-user trait where we remain optimistic even in the direst of circumstances.
Suddenly, Anne decided to strike up an unlikely friendship with Peter. She remarked early on in the diary that she is actually in love with Peter Schiff and it is almost as if she replaced Peter Van Daan with Peter Schiff. Ironically, prior to the development of this friendship she noted that any romance that wasn’t with Peter Schiff would merely be a poor substitute. Regardless, watching their friendship and romance blossom was like watching New Girl, the pair reminded me of Jess and Nick. She experienced the typical problems and worries that a young teen does in these matters and was frequently plagued by concerns about Peter’s feelings and intentions which, as a reserved young man, he did not make clear. Weirdly, you see Anne become happier and lighter. They talk about their respective aspirations which were a stark contrast to one another and they frequently simply sat and took in the fresh air in the attic and did some sky-watching. Merely watching nature was a soothing experience for Anne. Anne, also, wondered if she was getting in between Peter and Margot – even though the two rarely, if ever, interacted – as Anne was aware that they both had a crush on each other. Margot kindly steps aside as she explains to Anne in a letter that they wouldn’t be compatible anyway because like must be with like and their intellectual capabilities are not perfectly matched with each other.
The second half focuses on the relationship between Anne and Peter and Anne’s aspirations. After speaking to her father, their romance cooled and was placed on the back burner. Here is where I strongly disagreed with Anne’s line of thinking. Anne aspired to be a journalist, a writer or if these things didn’t work out to then write in addition to her work. She longed to be remembered, to make a mark on this world and not just be a mere housewife. She attempted to instil hope and inspiration into Peter, but Peter resisted, he wanted to work on a rubber plantation and she soon realised that she could not want to be with anyone who wasn’t ambitious enough. This is fair enough, but I didn’t think it was fair to belittle Peter just because his dreams and aspirations weren’t as fancy as Anne’s. A person should do what they want. Let people alone. Your dreams and ambitions of a high status aren’t for everyone. Their cooling off was like seeing Jess and Nick break up in that episode over a damn toy set.
What I loved was seeing Anne grow into her own. She noted the clear and unnecessary distinction between men and women and held highly feminist views. She praised women for their courage in childbirth and that they are the true soldiers and not just the soldiers who fight in wars. Instead of complaining about the residents of the Annexe, she adjusted her behaviour, so that everyone could live in better harmony. This doesn’t mean she resigned to being passive, she actually made an active effort to better understand their characters and see how they could be appealed to. Say what you will about depression, but I believe that it helps you develop empathy. It teaches you to be kind to others because you’re in need of kindness yourself.
Having got out from the slumps of depression, she succinctly evaluated the dual nature of her personality which oddly sounds like the description of a Gemini (she was one!):
“As I’ve told you many times, I’m split in two. One side contains my exuberant cheerfulness, my flippancy, my joy in life and, above all, my ability to appreciate the lighter side of things. By that I mean not finding anything wrong with flirtations, a kiss, an embrace, a saucy joke. This side of me is usually lying in wait to ambush the other one, which is much purer, deeper and finer. No one knows Anne’s better side, and that’s why most people can’t stand me. Oh, I can be an amusing clown for an afternoon, but after that everyone’s had enough of me to last a month. Actually, I’m what a romantic film is to a profound thinker – a mere diversion, a comic interlude, something that is soon forgotten: not bad, but not particularly good either.”
She readily admitted that she knew this comic side would always win which will have you screaming, “No, Anne! You are more than that. It gets better! You will get there one day though it might feel impossible to you right now.” This sentence reflects the very first few pages where she admits that it’s not liable to change. It reminded me of Chandler who cannot help but make a joke. Are these things sometimes ingrained into our personality? Can we change? Should we not try at the very least and dare to be uncomfortable? Anne explains why she could not:
“I’m afraid they’ll mock me, think I’m ridiculous and sentimental and not take me seriously.”
“A voice within me is sobbing, ‘You see, that’s what’s become of you. You’re surrounded by negative opinions, dismayed looks and mocking faces, people who dislike you and all because you don’t listen to the advice of your own better half.’”
It was a huge load for a girl of 15 to bear. This served as a reminder that while people may seem positive, happy and light-hearted… you cannot mistake them for being so. You can never know what people are truly going through. We are not privy to their innermost thoughts. Class clowns have sufferings too. It’s not always laughter as laughter can be a defence mechanism, a disguise, case in point: Robin Williams. Stop speculating and start asking.
Towards the end of her diary, we see Anne show an increasing interest in politics and the plight of her fellow Jews. Despite it all, she remained optimistic and chose to believe the best in people.
In this Definitive Edition, there are several photographs of the Frank family, Anne’s schoolmates, their helpers and even notable events prior to going into hiding. This later edition is far more authentic, not modified to suit the Dutch radio station but merely to express her ideals, sentiments and feelings.
One thing that I found quite oddly prophetic was that Anne dreams of Hanneli Goslar, a former schoolmate and oddly enough, when she is taken to the concentration camp after being taken from the Annexe, she finds Hanneli.
Anne displayed incredible depth of emotion, a highly perceptive nature and a maturity way beyond her 15 years. This book is packed with insight into the human nature, inspiration and optimism. This book is for everyone, man and woman, rich and poor, broken and whole. There is something for everyone to take away from this gem of a diary. I, for one, feel like I’ve learnt so much from this novel and so much that can be applied in real life. I’ve spoken about it before, Anne is one of the very few characters/people that I can strongly relate to… I didn’t even find anyone I could relate to in Harry Potter and there’s a whole lot of people in there. Maybe a little, very little, bit of Tonks and Harry but that was about it. I loved this book because I felt like I was reading about myself.
This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read, I can see a place in my top three/top five. After I finished reading this wonderful, heart-breaking book, I was struggling to decide what to read next. Where do I go from here? Thankfully, I reread Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss and it served as an excellent pick-me-up. Who needs a tonic when you have Dr Seuss?
I normally try to avoid reading books with a WWII backdrop but when I read the preview provided by Goodreads, I placed this book near the top of my TBR. I’m glad I waited a little because I needed all the strength I possessed to read this book without breaking down. I only want to read good books from now on, books that I know will interest me or make me laugh. My time is limited, not every book is for me. I think from now on I’ll read historical fiction and non-fiction, women’s fiction and non-fiction (recommend feminist texts, please!), memoirs and autobiographies, coming-of-age (YA and New Adult), adventure and philosophy. The occasional fantasy and romance here and there. Only here and there.
The next books I read have to teach me something, move me and/or make me laugh. Anne’s diary did all three.
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