As a teenager, I read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. Anne’s writing about coming of age (thirteen to fifteen) while her family and four others hid in a secret annex of the building where her father had worked, was to captivate postwar readers. We can’t resist that eloquent, idealistic adolescent, caught in what she describes as “crazy circumstances,” i.e., the Jewish plight in Amsterdam in WWII. She experiences human nature at its most petty, its most noble, and fears it at its most brutal. She encounters first love. Sensitive Anne confesses to her confidante, the diary, that she feels isolated. She is the universal young girl with a diary, only more gifted than most in her ability to convey details, express insights, narrate events, and joke with a wicked sense of humor while not sparing herself.
I loved Anne from the start. I loved that she began writing stories and dreamed of becoming a writer. I loved her reasons: to contribute to the record of Dutch people who lived through the war, to live the life she chooses, to have her work survive her death. Even though she died in a concentration camp before her sixteenth birthday, she met two of those goals,
At eighteen, I visited Amsterdam and the secret annex, now a museum. I wasn’t prepared for how tiny the rooms were where Anne lived for over two years, crammed in with seven others whom her diary describes loving, infuriating, celebrating, and nursing each other. Because of her, they live on, too. The pictures of movie stars less remembered than Anne remain on the walls where she glued them. She had been, after all, in some ways a typical teen.
In some ways, she wasn’t typical at all.