1) The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition, by Anne Frank
I picked this up in Paris a few weeks back, and was inspired to re-read it – of course, I had first read it as a teenager – by young F picking up Zlata’s Diary to read at the weekend.
I had forgotten just how gripping the story actually is – eight people stuck in hiding, with the inevitable personality clashes between two married couples with three children and an older, not-quite-confirmed bachelor; the story told by the youngest (but, by her own account, smartest) of the crew; the desperate grasping for hope as the news of the war starts gradually to turn to the possibility of a German defeat; Anne’s fifteen-year-old love for the seventeen-year-old Peter; and the final, crushing, end of the narrative in mid-stream as the Franks and their fellow fugitives are taken from the back-streets of Amsterdam, never (with one exception) to return. I cried on the train tonight reading the final pages of the book, and I challenge anyone to read it and remain unmoved.
A number of points seemed very fresh to me (perhaps also they were not so visible in the edition I would have read 25 years ago). The Franks and their fellow fugitives were from Germany; Anne and her sister actually teach the others Dutch at various points, and she expresses her desire to become a full Dutch citizen after the war. I don’t remember previously reading of, for instance, the extent of Anne’s problems relating to her mother, or of the difficulties of the lavatory arrangements; I think the new version of the account is stronger for including them.
I have a minor concern about the translation. In the very first entry – the only one in this edition given in the original Dutch – Anne, addressing “Kitty”, her new diary, says ik hoop dat je een grote steun aan me zult zijn. The English translation is “I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support”. Well, frankly, it’s a bit of a stretch from the single noun steun to “source of comfort and support” – normally it would just mean “support”, and having spotted the translator over-egging the meaning here, I wonder where else it may have happened. This may be a minor quibble (I’ll get a Dutch edition for young F, and decide for myself). The major point is that Anne Frank beats out the most impressive teenage livejournaller by a factor of ten or a hundred.
And she died. She ded horribly and painfully and unnecessarily, along with millions of other people, as a result of evil decisions made by evil men. And her story is the more vivid because she wrote about it; but there were six million other Jews killed because they were Jewish, and millions of others killed for similar reasons of state policy. Those incredible figures become more real to us from reading her account; but she was only one among millions.