Monday, December 21, 2009

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose

Francine Prose has been reading and rereading Anne Frank's Diary since she was a young girl. The devoted fan and prolific writer matured as a reader while rethinking what Anne Frank wrote and how she wrote. She recognized long ago that Anne Frank was consciously writing for the public, not just for herself as is sometimes stated in curriculum guides. She was, of course, very interested when The Critical Edition, The Definitive Edition, and The Revised Critical Edition were published, each showing that Anne Frank did indeed rewrite much of the early writing, determined to polish her diary into a literary work. Prose tells all of this and reveals much of what she has learned about the young author in Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife.

I was drawn to this new title after hearing Prose discuss Anne Frank on an NPR podcast. I was intrigued by the relationship of the book to the subsequent play and movie, both of which were popular and highly acclaimed. Being young, Prose initially liked the adaptations, but she now has a rather different view. She recognizes that both on stage and on screen Anne Frank has been reduced to a sweet, naive girl, missing much of her wit and savvy. Prose reluctantly admits that these dramatizations, as mistaken as they are, have drawn millions of people to the book, which she considers a good thing.

Prose also defends Otto Frank, who has been sharply criticized for editing his daughter's notebooks and loose papers into the original Diary published first in 1947. She notes that he actually left much more of the controversial content in than most fathers might have been inclined to do. His edit, she says, is still the most readable and most popular in schools that actually read the book. Unfortunately, many schools teach the sweetened play instead. "Chapter Ten: Teaching the Diary" is the most disturbing chapter, as Prose tells how badly some teachers teach the book and how some modern ultra-religious parents object to its teaching of tolerance.

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife is an interesting mix of biography, memoir, literary criticism, and history, which should attract many readers.

Prose, Francine. Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife. Harper, 2009. ISBN 9780061430794

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