“Anne Frank: the Book, the Life, the Afterlife” by Francine Prose

I committed to reading Francine Prose’s Anne Frank: the Book, the Life, the Afterlife because my friend Amy was reading it for an online discussion at In Our Study, and because I was CERTAIN I’d be done reading the Morning News Tournament of Books books. That was before I faced down Wolf Hall, however. Thus I found myself reading Anne Frank:tBtLtA alongside Wolf Hall as March rolled into April.

AF: tBtLtA pulled me in quickly and drew me through, hardly what I expected of a book of literary analysis. I have fond memories of reading Anne’s diary when I was a girl. But the last time I remember reading the book was in 5th grade for a book report; I’d have been 10 or 11. I had read it at least once before. Its details were vague until I started reading Prose. Her careful reading of the book and thorough research into its history immediately brought back many particulars.

The myth of Anne, begun with the publication of her diary and fueled by a later play and film, is that she was a girl like any other, writing in her diary while hiding in an attic from Nazis in WWII Holland. The group was caught by the Nazis, sent to camps, and all but Anne’s father died. Most teaching plans for the book focus on Anne as a typical teenager in a unique situation. They don’t usually deal with her intelligence, her skills as a writer. They don’t often study the reason she was in the attic, and how racism and genocide are alive in today’s world.

Prose has immense respect for Anne, not only as a person who was killed in the Holocaust, but as a writer and skilled editor of her own work. Anne’s diary, we know, survived. But what most don’t know, and Prose tells carefully and compellingly, is that Anne’s diary isn’t one simple thing. Near the end of their time in the attic, she heard a broadcast by an exiled politician urging Dutch families to document their experience in war, so others would learn of it afterward. Anne started then to edit her diary in longhand on loose sheets of paper. Both the diary and the loose sheets survived, and her father edited them using mostly the revised version, with some original entries added back in, and some passages about Anne’s tempestuous relationship with her mother removed. (Extensive handwriting analysis has proved that Anne was the author of the documents, her father only an editor.) So there are really three versions of Anne’s “diary”: the original diary, the revised diary, and the edited compilation know to most people.

Prose divides her book into four sections. The Life deals with the historical details of Anne’s life. The Book is about her father’s struggle to find a publisher for the book. The Afterlife is largely about the play and movie based on the book, and the critical problems they raise: that Anne is presented as a silly, flighty girl characterized by hope, and that her Jewishness, and thus the reason for their internment in the attic and later deaths, is largely effaced. A segment on teaching the book in schools ends the book.

I recommend this book highly to anyone who ever read Anne’s book, and even for those who haven’t. I plan to watch the PBS production of Anne Frank this weekend, and hope it presents a more nuanced, complex and Jewish heroine than have previous adaptations of the diary. Prepared by Prose’s excellent book, I also very much look forward to reading a version of the diary again, which will be done by the group at In Our Study.

4 Responses to ““Anne Frank: the Book, the Life, the Afterlife” by Francine Prose”

  1. Detective J.D Says:

    I have to check that out, ever since I read Anne Frank’s Diary in high school that started me writing my own diary. It’s hard to really imagine what she went through, but it’s an amazing inspiring book. I am looking forward to checking this out.

  2. girldetective Says:

    Your email and html seem to be spam, but since you took the trouble to make the comment specific, I’ve OK’d it.

  3. Amy Says:

    I’m glad you liked it. I thought it was a knockout. I’m nervous about the movie, though, especially after reading this. If they end it with the “I believe in the goodness of man”–which they probably will–I’ll be very sad. I’d love to see Prose’s commentary on the film

  4. Andrew Shankman Says:


    Hopefully you viewed the final moments as I did. Yes they did end with Anne’s statement that she still believed people were good at heart, but put it in the context of the growing hope in the annex that the allies would soon rescue them. They lived on a knife edge between hope and pure evil for months and then evil came for them. It’s the most powerful depiction of the diary, I think, on film.