Francine Prose rescues Anne Frank from being viewed as little more than a tchotchke.
By Mary Jo Patterson
Writer Francine Pose discovered The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank as a child of 8, sitting cross-legged on her bedroom floor and reading as if mesmerized. Like millions around the world, she became a huge fan of the dark-eyed, German, Jewish girl who spent two years hiding from the Nazis in a secret annex in an Amsterdam house.
Yet it was not until Prose reread the book 50 years later that she appreciated it as literature, Prose said at a lecture benefiting Drew’s Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study. “I was really astonished by how good it was. It struck me how extraordinary that was because the writer was a teenaged girl. Teenaged girls are not normally a demographic we associate with literary genius,” said Prose, author of Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, a scholarly reflection on the diary, its long road to publication and the dramatic adaptations that followed.
“I think before this book Anne Frank was in danger of becoming a tchotchke,” Drew President Robert Weisbuch said while introducing the author. “I think Francine Prose has done nothing less than make Anne Frank vital and near and present again.”
Prose’s April lecture was part of a celebration honoring Jacqueline Berke, professor of English emerita and founding director of Drew’s Center for Holocaust Study. In 1994 Berke presented a paper foreshadowing Prose’s 2009 book, according to Ann Saltzman, the center’s current director.
“There were interesting parallels. Jackie felt, like Prose, that this young woman was a literary genius,” says Saltzman. “She was the icon of a generation that could have been, but she was viewed more in terms of the terrible experience she went through as opposed to being a writer.”
During her research Prose discovered that Frank began feverishly revising the diary five months before police raided the annex. Its dialogue and characterizations became clearer and deeper; the author’s voice matured.
“I no longer had a sense of prying, as I did when I first read it,” Prose said. “She wanted it to be a public document.”