I’m taking a class on legal issues in publishing. We talk about things like copyright law, libel law, and defamation. It’s not terribly exciting. In fact, it’s terribly unexciting. For one of our class projects about censorship, though, we have to prepare a presentation on banned books. My book? Anne Frank’s diary.
I have very distinct memories of reading Anne’s diary for a book report when I was in seventh grade. Even though I was way too old, I read it curled up in bed with my mom. I had been going through a strange phase where I loved reading Holocaust fiction (is this a normal phase for twelve year old girls, or was that just me?) and I remember feeling so connected to young Anne Frank. The issues she dealt with (aside from, you know, Nazi persecution and being forced to live in a secret Annex with seven other people) really rang true and very much humanized the entire idea of the Holocause for me. I’ve found that this is a relatively common response among the thousands of middle school kids who read the diary each year.
Francine Prose has written an extended critical look at the diary which is, in itself, completely fascinating and absorbing. She begins with the argument that Anne was not just another teenage diarist who one day aspired to be a writer, but rather a wildly talented writer creating a deliberate work of art. I had no idea that Anne had begun rewriting her diary with the hopes that it would one day become a novel of her experiences in the secret annex. When the diary was eventually returned to Anne’s father, Otto, he quickly realized not only her gift but her desire to be published and worked for many years to honor his daughter by fulfilling that desire.
Prose fleshes out her examination with biographical information of Anne, her family, and the other residents of the annex, as well as a look at the diary’s lasting effects and controversies. However, I was most intrigued by the pasages describing Otto’s attempts to edit his daughter’s diary — he chose to cut several passages referring to her budding sexuality and tumultuous relationship with her mother. These passages were gradually restored as “Critical” and “Definitive” editions of the diary were eventually published.
Over the years, Anne Frank has become mythologized, a larger-than-life representation of the horrors of the Holocaust. Prose addresses this hero worship without succumbing to it in her own writing. She presents a portrait of a flawed adolescent whose dreams would outlive her own fifteen short years. A must-read for anyone who found themselves touched by the diary.