We talk about books that are not for everyone, well, this is a review not for everyone. I bring up feelings, more than facts here. I have thoughts that you probably do not say today. But I am telling you, the review reader, this book affected me in ways I did not expect. This is my journey being introduced to a story I thought I knew, but came away with a different outlook about it.
I have never read The Diary of Anne Frank. Though, I always figured I would enjoy it and Anne would be an interesting, sympathy, unique character and person. I had background from other World War Two readings and knowledge of the “gritty parts” that got it banned/challenged. I was ready.
What I was not ready for is some controversial feelings that Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation would bring to the front for me.
First, I am not sure I liked Anne. She is selfish, self-centered, spoiled, detached. Perhaps had she not had to go into hiding at such an early age; a turning point in her development; she would have been able to blossom and grow in a more traditional way. As it was, she was growing up in a couple of rooms, never leaving them, never being able to explore the world, as she was dealing with hunger, jealousies, envy, fear, helplessness. She dealt with death every day. She dealt with the possibilities of capture of not only herself, but the people willing to help hide the families of the Annex. When depression hit her (as it might any teen in a “normal” situation, let alone in such extreme circumstances as Anne faced, she felt she was alone. Even her beloved Father was no help to her.
Second, this is an emotional book and this graphic novel adaptation of the diary is brought to life through art as well as text. That adds to the images you see in your mind’s eye. You no longer guess at what might be happening you are seeing what could have been. I looked at this book with the eyes of now.
I had many questions about every line. Perhaps even every word at times. The book is long. Hard to read (subject, language of use) and there are entire passages of the diary reprinted. The font used for the book could be hard on the eyes and when you have two pages of a picture book sized book to read of a girl’s diary, that is not something you can breeze through.
Some of the questions were obvious such as, Was Anne gay? Bi-sexual? Or just a girl trying to come to terms with herself? Was she just “European” and saw the beauty of things? And did she think she was as special as the text seemed to make her? After all her father and mother came from wealth; her father owned a business before the war, and through Anne’s eyes I think we see how her parents never forgot their privilege and therefore, gave that pride to Anne. Others not as obvious and I had them as I went along due to my personal tastes, biases and how I was seeing things through modern eyes.
But we need to see things as they were then. Why would a child of a European background not be more sophisticated than a child of now? Why should we expect she would have the values of today? If anything, she had more values than many adults I know today.
A few years ago, I heard that there was talk that Anne did not write the diary at all, it was her father, Otto. My gut reaction was, “So what? It may not have been a girl named Anne’s story, but it was someone’s story. People went into hiding. People risked their lives to protect them. That lends itself to my final thought of this review. This book would make a discussion group run away screaming. You have the hot-button emotions and topics. You would have people who would take everything as gospel. Some will feel the book is vulgar: Anne seems to be (no pun intended) frank about sexuality. And her lack of love for her family (or perhaps she loves out of duty, not out of actual fondness). Again, modern though, was Anne on the Autism/Asperger’s scale?
I tried to go into this book with an open mind. I was trying not to go at it as, “This is the greatest book in the world” and I tried not to say, “You know all the hype means this book sucks, right?” I think I came away from a classic book with a new understanding of it and an appreciation of the graphic novel format as a good way to present something like this. It was not disrespectful, but a great way for someone to be part of Anne’s story; if only as a reader of it.