I finished The Diary of Anne Frank a couple of weeks ago, and have been pondering it ever since. When it got selected for Book Club (we all put suggestions in an envelope, and we pull two randomly every month), I admit I groaned a little inside. I thought, how can I possibly relate to a 14 year old German Jew sixty years ago living in a tiny room in the back of an Amsterdam warehouse?
But I started reading. And I didn’t stop. And boy, did I relate.
The extraordinary thing about Anne is the fact that she really was an ordinary 14 year old girl. I was reading her diary, and remembering diary entries of my own when I was 14 that were exactly the same. Hating everyone, feeling totally misunderstood, wanting to be a writer, falling in love with boys.
What they went through living in that Annexe blows my mind. The detail with which Anne describes the tensions between people, eating the same food every day, the boredom, the overwhelming desire to go outside, and the fear that permeated everything, is just incredible. And of course, there’s this feeling of omniscience and terrible sadness for the reader, because we know what’s going to happen. It’s so well written I had to keep reminding myself it’s not fiction. Anne was real, everything she felt was real.. her death was real. Knowing her thoughts and knowing she was going to die despite them managing to stay alive in there for two years, despite all their best efforts, was absolutely heartbreaking.
I talked to her alot, while I was reading it. I told her that even though she hadn’t made it through, her diaries had, and they had been read by millions of people. She had reached millions of people, she educated the world about the truths of WW2, she became a famous author just like she dreamed of.
And I told her that she would love today, that she’d just be blown away by the internet and the cities and the world.
Thank god for book club pushing me out of my comfort zone!
In other news, Niall has excited me by deciding to do his dissertation on Mansfield, and the various Italian translations of her work. I am such a nerd. I can’t wait to help him critique. I’ll be more hindrance than help, and he doesn’t need the distraction, but he doesn’t get a choice. A) I love Mansfield, and B) I love helping people use the National Library and getting them as excited as I am about what we can offer here. It’s so satisfying to hear people say “wow, I never knew the National Library had so much cool and valuable and helpful stuff!” It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I remember why I loved this job.