Chilling memoir
Reviewed by Balwinder Kaur

Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret Annexe
By Anne Frank. Hachette India. Pages 207. Rs 350

Anne Frank, the world-renowned teenage author of this collection of writings did not live to see her eighteenth birthday because under the merciless Nazi regime being born Jewish was a crime punishable by death. The Netherlands in the year 1944 may seem long gone but Anne Frank’s journal is one of the most moving accounts of this dark period in human history, recounting with vivid clarity the terrible oppressive years which many spent in hiding because they feared for their lives. A chilling memoir showcasing the first-hand effects of war on a human being; putting a face and name to suffering.

Raised in a highly literary environment by Otto and Edith Frank, both Anne and her sister Margot enjoyed scholastic pursuits even after they lost their physical freedom. A self-possessed and motivated girl, Anne envisioned for herself a life of productivity rather than domesticity and longed to be a writer who would leave her mark on the world. Propelled by that desire, she wrote zealously and her numerous short stories, personal accounts, an unfinished novel and lesser-known writings are compiled in Anne Frank’s Tales From The Secret Annexe translated from Dutch by Susan Massotty.

During her two years in the Annexe, existing in a state of suspended animation, Anne wrote many stories and strove to make sense of a world gone mad through her words. She was striving for an approximation of freedom and dreaming of a brighter future. Many of these writings were about the Annexe itself and its residents. All these eight people lived in a confined space, constrained to follow with clockwork precision the schedule that their lives depended on. And the inevitable friction and collisions that occurred between people in each other’s orbits. We see that people even in these dire times remained the same with flaws and failings. Hardship was a part of this community’s daily life and general existence. Their daily routine is pieced together over many entries; wherein layouts and activities are described but not necessarily in sequence. This composite provides the reader a real picture of life in the Annexe.

Anne Frank’s Tales from the Secret AnnexeShe wrote with a fascinating mixture of idealism and realism. The writing is matter of fact and free of dramatic exaggerations; all references to deprivation and isolation are offhand. Her narration of events includes colourful descriptions interspersed with wry observations and remarks. Sometimes using humour as a defence mechanism. But between these age-appropriate comments lies a profound understanding of life and human nature. Nevertheless, there is palpable tension throughout and the lack of tears and hysterics only enhances this. The date on each entry feels like a clock counting down to the sad finale that the reader knows is coming.

The diary entries prove very revealing as Anne confesses to many a personal flaw and folly however she displays impressive emotional maturity by always striving for reasonable behaviour and advocating compassion.

The stories have different tones; sarcastic, earnest, hopeful, resentful and pensive. But these stories have similar themes and there is a constant clash between confinement and adventure. The pages are filled with uncomfortable questions and ugly truths.

There are many character-driven stories and her experiences are sometimes mirrored in these characters’ lives; expressing her frustration and desperation through the medium of fiction. Most of her characters are good, hard-working people weighed down by difficult circumstances but who remain honourable. Multiple scenarios are used to explore and imagine what her hypothetical future would be like. Some stories are sad and some hopeful; some with happy endings like Paula’s Flight while Katrien was not so lucky. There is the maudlin tale of Blurry the Explorer who ran away but couldn’t find the world. War is only referenced in one story, perhaps it is a subject too painful to dwell on. But these characters chase inner happiness in the face of insurmountable challenges while grappling with life’s disappointments.

Anne Frank’s greatest legacy remains her strength and stoicism. With a maturity beyond her years, she made the distinction between what can be cured and what must be endured. To her, the key to surviving grief and loss lay in the belief that her suffering was transient that there existed the promise of a better tomorrow. Anne was a humanist and a social reformer in the making and her desperate desire to make a difference in the world was realised for her message of hope, compassion and kindness has inspired and motivated millions.