Book Review – Het Achterhuis by Anne Frank
by Rob Cottignies
Known as The Diary Of A Young Girl to English-readers, Anne Frank’s “book” is like no other. I put the word book in quotation marks because it really isn’t. There are millions of books just like it- diaries. I’ve written several as I’m sure many of you have. So what makes this one special?
For those unfamiliar with this stretch of history, consider this your spoiler alert. Anne Frank was given a blank diary (which she named Kitty) for her thirteenth birthday. She wrote in it regularly for over two years, during most of which she and seven other Jews were in a confined “Secret Annexe” hiding from the Germans. Anne wrote about an array of topics: school and studies, friends, politics, boys, the beauty of nature, family life, her up-and-down relationships with everyone who was hiding with her.
The basic concept of this book is odd and, especially for me, unappealing. It’s the personal thoughts of a teenage girl. As a 31-year-old man, that idea hardly sparks my interest. It was the story surrounding the book that made me read it but I found Anne to be absolutely adorable. Maybe I’m getting soft but I found her prose charming and her ideologies far above many adults. Like very many people even to this day, Anne could not understand why she had to be in hiding. Even through that, she hardly expressed hatred for the Germans responsible, but rather confusion and wonder. She praised Winston Churchill and routinely prayed for the Allies to invade and end the war. I got particularly interested when her June 6, 1944, entry came around. She described D-Day from what she heard on her illegal radio and was quite excited that the invasion of France was finally underway. It was interesting to read such an odd perspective on the events without sadness but with joy and hope of finally leaving her hiding spot. Less than two months later this would happen, but at the hands of the Gestapo…
Already knowing that she wouldn’t survive the war was the hardest and most heart-breaking part of reading this book. Anne often wrote about what she would do and where she would go after the war. She wrote about getting married and having children and even speculated what she’d be like when she turned eighty. As a reader, I felt helpless. I wanted to jump into the book and tell her…… what, exactly? That she wouldn’t live past fifteen? That she would eventually become a world-famous writer, but certainly not in the way she had hoped?
Hope is what oddly makes this book so sad. This “silly little goat” (as Anne described herself) was so optimistic in such an unimaginably dark time. Being a teenager is emotionally hectic enough, but being forced to leave your home to share a confined quarters with seven people while never being allowed outside and with the constant threat of being found and taken away to an almost certain death? There are no words. Actually, there are- Anne’s. She discusses this in as positive a way as possible but at one point even wishes for death to arrive so she could be free from confinement. Can you blame her? Anne’s way with words was so touching though. She complained about her parents and the lack of food and other things but almost always had a little joke lined up. And I must admit that I cheered out loud when Anne got her first kiss. She didn’t know what it meant, but who really does?
Another odd aspect of reading this: At one point in the book, Anne went on for many pages about relatively trivial issues. I found myself wishing for some kind of action to happen; then I realized what that would mean and quickly wished for the nothing to continue. With so many emotions surrounding the book, I forgot it wasn’t fiction.
The edition of The Diary Of A Young Girl I have is a paperback published by Bantam Books in 1993. It was translated from the Dutch by B.M. Mooyaart and features a short introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt. There are pictures toward the front of the book of Anne, her actual writings, and notably of her father- the only one of the eight to survive the war. He’s the person who had Anne’s writings published under the original Dutch name, Het Achterhuis, which is what she would have titled her first book had she been able to. Since there is no literary ending to her book, Mooyaart adds an informative afterword in three parts. The first tells of Hitler’s rise to power and how the situation in Amsterdam came to be; the second, sadly, completes the story of Anne and her family; and the third describes how the book came to be published and then so wide-spread throughout the world.
Reading this book was a humbling experience for me. The journal writings of a teenage girl from another continent decades ago have taught me a very valuable lesson: No matter how dark things get, there is always light to be found. Just look out the window…
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature, and God.” –Anne Frank, 1944