Thursday, June 16, 2005

Look Out, Michiko Kakutani, Ramseelbird Has "The Sight"

Young girl, heck. Diary of a young woman is more like it., July 30, 2004
Reviewer: E. Bird "Ramseelbird" (Manhattan, NY)

Imagine that someday you are remembered for all eternity at a very particular time and at a very particular age. You could be remembered forever as being 25 on September the 11th or you could be remembered as being 44 when JFK was shot. It seems awfully cruel for someone to be remembered between the ages of 13 to 15. Do you remember what you were like at that age? Would you want anyone to think of you as that old for as long as your name is remembered? Such is the fate of Anne Frank. Now, I never read this book when I was young. High schools, in my experience, tend to assign the play version of this story when they want to convey Anne Frank's tale. Anne tends to be remembered as the little girl who once wrote, "I still believe that people are really good at heart" in spite of her sufferings. So I should be forgiven for expecting this book to be the dewy-eyed suppositions of a saintly little girl. Instead, I found someone with verve, complexity, and a personality that I did not always particularly like. What I discovered, was the true Anne Frank.

The diary of Anne begins when she is 13 years of age and the Jews are already wearing yellow stars in Amsterdam. Anne is your usual precocious girl, flirting with boys and being impudent when she can get away with it. When at last the time comes for the Franks to go into hiding (Margot Frank, Anne's sister, has been issued an order for her removal) they do so with another family, the Van Daans. In a small floor hidden above Otto Frank's old workplace the two families are aided by faithful friends and employees. Over the course of the diary we watch and listen through Anne's eyes as, for two years, the people in the attic are put through terrible deprivations and trials. There are good times and bad, but Anne is a singularly biased narrator and her observations must usually be taken with a grain of salt. After a while you become so comfortable with Anne's observations and voice that the final page of the narrative comes as a shock when the capture of Anne and her family is finally announced.

I recently had the mixed pleasure of finding and rereading my own diary from around the age of 14. After forcing myself to look through the occasional passage here and there I was forced to conclude that for her age, Anne is a marvelous writer. She has a sense of drama, tension, and narrative that is particularly enthralling. It's painful to think about what a great writer she could have been had she lived any longer. Honestly, the Anne I met in this book showed all the worst characteristics of her age. I found her detestation of her own mother to be particularly repugnant. Then I remembered... she's an early adolescent. Of course she hates her mother! Of course she's just simply awful a lot of the time. But you can see who she's becoming, and that's what makes the book so hard to get through. You can see her growth and her character. You know that she's learning and trying to understand what it means to be a human being during World War II. It's all the more awful that this would be the age she was preserved at.

The book is remarkable on so many levels. I think young teenage girls will understand Anne's plight intrinsically. Who couldn't? Who doesn't remember the rocky years of 13-15? (I'm sorry, I just HAVE to interject here, because the reviewer's point is SO valid. Those years hiding from the SS are always the toughest. Hormones!) The need for attention? The sobbing for no particular reason? By the end of the diary, Anne becomes far more philosophical. She no longer records the family's every move and action. Instead, she ponders questions like whether or not young people are lonelier than old people. Or what it means to be good. Though you may not like the protagonist of this book at all times, you come to understand and sympathize with her. She is a remarkable author, all the more so when you consider that this diary was written for her eyes alone at the time. If I could require kids to read something in school, I think this would top the list. It probably remains the best Holocaust children's book in existence today.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Ramseelbird said...

Interesting.
I've never considered blowing my reviews up to the point where they are big and red and contain a variety of different fonts. Still, I gotta say it's original.

9:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home