Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: A Review (of sorts)

I recently reread Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl in preparation of my trip to Amsterdam, where I knew I would be visiting the Anne Frank House (the secret annex).  I had read it the first time in 8th grade, so I had only a vague recollection of the contents of her diary.  Rereading it as an adult was enlightening (and timely, given some current events) since I had some experience and knowledge that made her ideas, trials, tribulations, opinions, and joys more relevant to me now than when I was 13 years old.

I’m fairly certain that most–if not all–of you have read at least sections of Anne’s diary either on your own or in school, so I will spare you the details.  However, if you have never read it or if it’s been more than 10 years since you’ve read, I strongly urge you to lend your eyes and ears (and heart) to Anne as she painstakingly details her experiences in hiding from the Nazis during WWII (Anne’s diary begins in June 1942 and goes until August 1944.  The family went into hiding July 6, 1942: today marks 76 years!).

A short list of what I loved about Anne while rereading her diary:

  1. Her sense of humor
  2. Her candor
  3. Her honesty
  4. Her introspection
  5. Her quest for self-discovery
  6. Her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and self-improvement
  7. Her self-confidence, even as it gives way to doubt later on
  8. Her self-awareness
  9. Her resolve under the most distressing circumstances
  10. Her determination and will to survive
  11. Her deliberate attempts at teenage experiences (i.e. romance!) in the most unlikely place under the most distressing circumstances

A short list of what I learned about the dangers of history repeating itself while rereading her diary:

  1. Still today, national security takes precedence over humanitarian concerns. (See today’s news about the Franks’ thwarted attempt to come to America in 1941.)
  2. Fewer and fewer people are aware of the Holocaust.  See also: An astonishing 2/3 of millennials do not know what Auschwitz is.
  3. A Holocaust denier and anti-Semitic Republican from California won in the primaries and is now on the general-election ticket. (what?!)
  4. An Iowan congressman is retweeting Neo-Nazis/Nazi sympathizers.  Re: anti-immigration. (Note: there are two different tweets linked here.)
  5. While what’s currently going on at our borders is most definitely NOT the Holocaust, family separation was one of the worst aspects of the Holocaust according to survivors (if you can even imagine!!!!), and we ALL should take notice and stop this horrible, senseless action.

I encourage whoever you are to read the news articles above for yourself and really reflect upon what’s going on in our world right now.  We have some pretty scary people in office–not just in the U.S. but in other parts of the world–and history could very well repeat itself if we don’t take careful and deliberate action that it doesn’t.  Annnnd I’ll leave it at that.

Back to Amsterdam.

I was not allowed to take pictures during my tour of the secret annex, but I was content to take pictures only on the outside of the annex (See pics below as well as this video.).  The space inside demands all of your attention.  As you walk through the rooms all 8 refugees inhabited, it’s nice not to have your attention divided, not to see the room you’re actually standing in on a tiny phone screen so that you can look quickly back at pictures later.  No.  The space demands all of your attention, and it deserves it.  I think having Anne’s voice so fresh in my head and on my heart made my visit much more meaningful.  I felt her presence there.  I felt each of the eight people’s presence there.  And I wondered how so many inhabitants could occupy such a small space for so long without going outside, without feeling the breeze on their skin, without walking around while swinging their arms–all the while fearing for not only their own lives but also for the lives of those helping them.  Anne always puts her frustrations in perspective when she makes sure to point out how good they actually had it; otherwise, they would have been in a concentration camp–or worse, dead.

Of course, we all know what happened to them in the end.  And what a sad thing to have happened.  It shouldn’t have happened.  It could have been avoided.  If only.  If only.  If only…

I’m sure Anne never lost hope of survival, and thankfully, her father Otto did survive and gifted the world with Anne so that we all could know her and learn from her so that we forbid those horrors happening again.

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All the Light We Cannot See: A Review (of sorts)

It took me 3 reading attempts over a 2-year span and a month and a half of reading straight through, but I finally finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr at 2 a.m. on a rainy Monday morning.  Why did it take me so many times or so long to read it once I finally got going?  I’ll explain.

Geez.  Why so many times?

I’ll tell you what I tell my husband when he gets irritated at my ginormous reading stack: I have condition called Book ADD.  It’s a thing.  Trust me.  I’ll start a book, and often I’ll see another prettier, shinier book and say to myself, “Let me read that for a second.”  Andall-the-light-we-cannot-see-by-anthony-doerr then I have Book ADD with that book.  And the next.  And the next.  It’s actually sort of exhausting, reading a bit of many novels and then becoming so overwhelmed at the stack of ADD books that I abandon them all and start fresh.  Compounding my diagnosis is the fact that I’m a slow reader.  Le sigh.

Gosh.  Why so long?

2 words: The Election.  I was well into the novel when The Election happened.  Sadness and despair held me up for a good week or two.  In actuality, I’m still trying to pry myself away.  Anyway, I just couldn’t go back to St. Malo and all its beautiful devastation when I felt desperate in my own life.  I needed time to make sense of my new real world before I could plunge into a historical fiction that could–given my new real world–become a reality within the next 4 years.

So what?

We read to connect with something, right?  We read to make sense of our world.  I could write for days about the parallels ALWCS and the state of our nation right now: the uncertainty, the turmoil, the madmen at the helm of ships entering dangerous waters.  But I won’t.  Somehow saying very little gives me hope that it won’t be true–like saying it out loud might make it real or give it truth.  I’m superstitious that way.

But the book, friend.  The book is gorgeous.  It does its best job at finding the beauty in the ugly, and its best won the Pulitzer.  In my wildest dreams, I still can’t craft sentences like Mr. Doerr.  Just listen to the master:

“Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.”

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

God.  Just.  Why can’t I?

The characters are just as beautiful and intricate as the language, which is why–you know–Pulitzer!  Marie Laure and Werner, Jutta and Papa, Etienne and Frederick, Volkheimer and Madame Manec are surely as real to the reader as the letters on the page.  They bring light to a dark world, and thank God for that.5136536258b0765ceea8d2f959e42ca7

If you enjoy stories with characters who are beautifully flawed, with a mysterious and suspenseful plot over a back drop of Nazi-occupied France during WWII, this is the book for you.  You like folklore involving a blue diamond with a flaming red center that will give eternal life to its carrier yet curse others around it?  Yep, this book.  You fancy miniature model cities (a la Beetlejuice) and radio broadcasts that transmit secret coded messages that were once baked into bread?  This book.  You desire to read something that matters on a larger scale and helps you understand something new about yourself or your world?  This.

Go read this book.

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Feel free to also check this out.