Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife

Harper  2009

Francine Prose, like most readers, first read The Diary of a Young Girl when she herself was a young girl. And, like most readers, she remembered Anne Frank as a teenager who poured her thoughts and emotions into her beloved diary before her arrest and death in Bergen-Belsen. Many years later, now an accomplished writer and novelist, Prose reread the book and was immediately struck by the fact that Anne Frank was also a conscious, working writer. In this substantially researched and wide-ranging study, Prose examines Anne Frank as the writer she hoped to be, not as an iconic victim of the Holocaust. 

In March 1944 the Dutch education minister in exile broadcast a call for Dutch citizens to save everyday documents that recorded their wartime experiences. By the next morning Anne had begun planning the publication of a novelized version of her diary. Despite misgivings about her ability—although none about her ambitions to be a writer—she began revising. The book that resulted is not a chronological account of life in the annex but a carefully crafted reworking of the original diary. The Revised Critical Edition (English edition, Doubleday, 2003), combining all Anne’s drafts, runs to more than 800 pages. As Prose learned more about the Diary, she also became acquainted with the industry to which it gave rise, an industry based on the overidealized Anne of the foundation named for her. She discovered the bitter, angry story behind the play, which began the sentimentalizaton of Anne, and the perky, universalized— only incidentally Jewish—Anne of the movie. She became aware, too, of the reverse side of the adulation—the ugly world of those who denied the authenticity of the book entirely. 

For generations of readers, Anne’s life is summed up in a hopeful message: “I believe people are still good at heart.” In context, however, this sentence is but one phrase in a thoughtful and balanced passage on the fate of ideals in the world as Anne knew it. This probing and informed book introduces readers to a far more complex and accomplished young woman than the Anne we met in our adolescence and, I hope, will take us back as adults to The Diary of a Young Girl to renew and enrich our reading of this enduring book. Index, notes, selected bibliography.

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