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Sunday 14 December 2014

Book Discussion: The Diary of a Young Girl

Guest blogger: Kanika Narula

About the book:

Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit.

In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annexe" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death.

In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short


The Diary of a Young Girl  is the story of a 13 year old Jewish girl and her family who were forced into hiding by the Nazis during the World War II. Anne Frank’s world famous diary charts the two years of her life from 1942 to1944, when  her family was hiding in Amsterdam to remain protected from German Nazis. The diary begins just before the family retreated into their “Secret  Annexe”.  Anne Frank  recorded mostly her hopes, frustrations, clashes with her parents, and observation of her companions. Its first version, which appeared in 1947, was edited by Anne’s  father, Otto Frank. The Diary of Anne Frank has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages. After the Bible, it is the most widely read non-fiction book in the world.

On to the discussion:
The beginning pages of Anne’s diary are fresh and carry in them the obvious thoughts of a girl who has recently acquired teenage. Her entries from 9 July,1942 (Probably the time period they shifted to the hiding)  show a complete despair as far as achieving freedom in the future is concerned.

For instance, in her entry of 29 October, 1943, the reader finds her writing, “Go outside, laugh, and take a breath of fresh air, a voice cries  within me, but I don’t even feel a response any more…..”
Poignant. Heart-breaking.

On 24 December 1943, she writes : “Believe me, if you have been shut up for a year and a half , it can get too much for you some days...  Inspite of all justice and thankfulness, you can't  crush your feelings. Cycling, dancing, whistling, looking into the world, feeling young.... That’s what I long for...I couldn’t  talk about it to anyone, because then I know I should cry. Crying can bring such relief… Then on 3 February, 1944, she words out her anxiety by writing: “I have now reached the stage that I don’t care much whether I live or die. The world will still keep on running without me; what is going to happen will happen, and anyway its no good trying to resist.” Similar expressions  could be noticed in her entries of 12 Feb, 1944 when she writes, “The sun is shining, the sky is a deep blue, there is a lovely breeze and I’m longing- so longing – for everything.” Her ability to still hope for an appropriate ending could be seen as almost vanished  with her write-up of 26 May, 1944 which says: “Again and again, I ask myself, would it not have been better for us all if we had not gone into hiding, and if we were dead now and not going through all this misery……..”

Anne’s unease due to her confinement  in the secret annexe was also accompanied by her gradual detachment from her family members. Her entries in her diary  on certain dates was a testimony to this. For instance, her entry for 7 November, 1942  stated that “ Mummy is frightfully irritable and that always seems to herald unpleasantness for me……I cling to Daddy because it is only through him that I am able to retain the remnant of family feeling…….Mummy and her  failings are something I find harder to bear than anything else……. I don’t know how to keep it all to myself…….I can’t  always to drawing attention to her untidiness, her sarcasm, and her lack of sweetness, neither can I believe that I’m always in the wrong.

While reading the pages of Anne’s diary, one makes incredible discoveries about the various aspects of her personality. Sometimes  she appears to be a confused teenager  bewildered over the nature of sexual problems and failing to understand why people are secretive and tiresome when they talk about such things, while sometimes she declares herself a young girl turning into a strong woman  and claims that she has developed more courage than ever, her feeling for justice is immovable and she is slowly turning into a woman with inward strength and plenty of bravery, while sometimes she takes over the responsibility of delivering political lectures and expresses  her feelings against the deeds of big men, the  politicians….. when she writes: “ I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of war……The little man is just as guilty…. There’s an urge in people simply to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up , cultivate, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”

Anne seemed to have realized somehow that she will be a well-known name in years to come and will always be remembered through her literary talent even if she will not be able to escape the Nazi torture  or successfully survive till the liberation. Her diary that was created with the intention of giving expressions to various types of feelings  she was developing during her stay in the “secret annexe”, not only provides an authentic and explicit picture of what all the Jews must have gone through during Hitler’ rule in Germany but also helps the reader visualize the psychological ups and downs that the Jewish kids must have undergone, millions of kids who were hardly in a position to comprehend  the reason for the  racial discrimination they were suffering.

Few ending words:
“The Diary of a Young Girl” is also  a piece of literary work that has  great historic value, particularly for those  who are eager supporters of “History from Below”, that is, who  believe that  general  literary works that largely talk about political leaders, super-rich commercial classes, major political, social and economic  forces behind the occurrence of some historic events are incapable of supplying a clear and authentic  picture of  the impact any act creates upon the most underrated but at the same time most crucial element of the society-“ the ordinary many  who together constitute a society.”
We all have read some or the other literary works related to the Impact of Nazism on Germany but these works cover nothing more than the rise of Hitler and Nazism in Germany, the atrocities  faced by the “Undesirable communities”, particularly the “Jews” of  whom Hitler was highly insecure and so made them suffer the most. Most of these works discuss the political history of Germany and restrict their writings to the activities of some major leaders but it was this diary written by a young  Jewish girl that brought us close to the miseries faced by the numerous Jews when the hunt against them started in Germany and the extent to which almost the entire Jewish population including millions of children were moved psychologically  by the inhuman atrocities committed upon them.

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Kritika's bookshelf: read

Angels & Demons
The Story of My Life
The Hunger Games
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
A Tale of Two Cities
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
Sense and Sensibility
A Christmas Carol
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Time Machine
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Da Vinci Code

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