Bookmarks Issue: 

The Book, the Life, the Afterlife

A-Anne FrankNovelist, biographer, and literary critic Francine Prose reread The Diary of Anne Frank while writing a novel narrated by a 13-year-old girl (Goldengrove, 4 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2008). Struck by Frank's tremendous talent, Prose decided to reappraise this seminal work, "a memoir with the virtues of a great novel," from a literary standpoint, in the hope that it would finally attain the serious, scholarly treatment it deserves.

The Topic: In her critical analysis, Prose considers the enduring legacy of this world-renowned diary--an exceptional work of art carefully crafted by a gifted writer. Delighted by the prospect of a wide readership, Frank rewrote her diary after a 1944 radio broadcast exhorted the Dutch to save their personal papers, letters, and journals for a planned wartime archive. Comparing this revised work to the original, Prose analyzes Frank's characterizations, keen insights, and storytelling skill. Prose also thoroughly examines the diary's publication and its subsequent incarnations on stage, on screen, and on the Internet. Anne Frank's diary, required reading across the world, put a face on the atrocities of the Nazi occupation. Her story "is the one we know about," contends Prose, "if we know about any at all."
Harper. 322 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780061430794

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"It's this lesser known Anne--giddy girl becoming a woman capable of holding two irreconcilable views of human nature, gushing diarist turning into a serious writer--that Francine Prose reveals. A champion of close reading, Prose focuses on the diary as a conscious work of art, as well as an artifact that has made the Holocaust real to generations." Tricia Springstubb

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"With Anne Frank, then, Prose means to remove Frank from the wistful amber of her posthumous celebrity and reveal her to us in a more realistic light. ... In Prose's penetrating analysis, however, the book is less the serendipitous reflection of a precocious adolescent than the intentional work of a young author who tailored her material very much for effect." David L. Ulin

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Most importantly, Prose takes Anne Frank seriously as a writer, applying her crystalline critical insight to the work itself. ... Prose continues that work--giving us the fullest sense of what Anne Frank was like--with contagious enthusiasm." Marion Winik

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Prose uses her formidable powers of discernment to write incisively about many facets of the Anne Frank phenomenon, from the life itself to the various ways in which it has been willfully distorted. ... This seemingly narrow work is an impressively far-reaching critical work, an elegant study both edifying and entertaining." Janet Maslin

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Francine Prose ... takes Anne's story and adds to it a new perspective, that of Anne as editor, deliberate historian and exemplary writer. ... If ‘vigilance must have sharpened Anne's eye,' Prose too tells this story with tremendous beauty, pathos and a profound awareness of tragic coincidence." Sara Houghteling

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Prose's summaries and explanations of dialogue and plot can, inevitably, sometimes read like CliffsNotes, but she makes a persuasive argument for Anne Frank's literary genius. The best part of Prose's book is her consideration of Frank's divisive legacy." Joshua Hammer

Critical Summary

At first, critics doubted that anything fresh could be added to this subject, but they soon agreed that Prose sheds new light on Anne Frank in her provocative and penetrating study. She makes a compelling case for Frank's literary brilliance, and though she considers the diary a "masterpiece," she candidly assesses its limitations. Prose also remains impressively impartial when sizing up the colorful figures who had a stake in Anne Frank's diary after her death. Though the New York Times Book Review felt the narrative reads like a study guide at times, others praised Prose's "dogged and impassioned scholarship" (New York Times). Written with great sympathy and sensitivity, Prose challenges readers to rethink the story they thought they knew and its impact across the globe.

Supplementary Reading

Anne Frank The Diary of a Young Girl | Anne Frank (1952): This much-loved classic, detailing the plight of eight Dutch Jews hiding in a cramped, secret apartment in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, has sold tens of millions of copies and is required reading in schools worldwide.