Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Audible version, read by Helena Bonham Carter

I visited Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam back in 2011, the first time I came to Europe, and had been meaning to read the book since. I finally did, thanks to audio book. I listened to the 70th anniversary edition above, read by Helena Bonham Carter, and it was perfect. I really liked her reading.

As a side note, I recently just got into a series of audio books through audible. I tried listening to audio books in the past but but couldn’t get into it. This time I found a way that works for me, which is listening while reading the actual paper book. Might sound a bit odd for a lot of you, but for me I feel like I miss too much with just listening, and listening the words being spoken while reading makes the reading more interesting and lively. I don’t this for every book, but it worked great for this book. And because this book is a series of diary entries that are not too dense, I wasn’t too strict about the listening and reading combo, and sometimes just continued listening while walking.

Anyway it was a long winded way for me to say that this audio book was the perfect way to “read” it. Though I loved many aspects of the book, it is after all a diary of a young girl (Anne Frank was 13-15 years old at the time of writing), and I can see how reading diary entries of a young girl could be… tiresome? I myself wrote diary when I was her age, in a style that is not unlike her. In fact the diary reminded me so much of my own, that at times I was embarrassed for both of us, especially on subjects like boys, and all the assertions to be independent from our parents. Funny how a lot of young girls are alike, no matter where you are and which culture you are born into.

Obviously the similarities ended there, as Anne Frank’s circumstances were so extraordinary. The diary spans more than two years living in hiding, in such close confined space, with the same eight people. I can’t imagine it. On top of that she was at the age in which you begin to yearn exploring the world outside your home, to be independent away from your immediate family. Instead you are forced to be living 24/7 under the adults. How frustrating it must’ve been, and it shows in her diary.

The paperback that I read was given by a friend many years ago (above picture). Reading while listening gave me an extra insight into the different versions of the diary. According to the introduction of the audio book, there are sort of 3 different versions of the book. To simplify, my paperback is an edited version of the diary, while the audio book contains extra content.

You might already know that Anne Frank, her mother, and sister, and in fact everyone living in the secret annex did not survive, except for Anne’s father. The father found the diary after the war ended, and published it eventually as a book. In the first version he did edit out some parts that have anything to do with sex talks, and those that criticize or speak harshly about Anne’s mother in particular. The translations of the two editions are also slightly different, and I think the new translation is superior – more reason to choose the 70th anniversary edition.

Though some parts of the diary might be a bit boring than others, I’m thinking it’s impossible to read this book on its own merits, outside the context it is written in. It is an extraordinary testimony of a time and place, and of the life of a young girl living in it. There are millions of Jews suffered and died in that period, but there’s only one diary that survives and lives. Surely that speaks volume. Anne was articulate, witty, and thoughtful. She spoke of the future. I dreaded every chapter, the closer I came to the end, because I knew what awaits. Knowing the ending, I was slightly surprised how incredibly sad I was at the end. The diary ended abruptly, and the afterword gave a brief closure to the fate of everyone in the secret annex. I could hardly sleep the first night, and I thought about Anne for days afterwards. The thing that hit me the most is that they all died alone, away from each other, in stark contrast from living together in such close quarter for a long period of time. Dying alone seems the worst. It’s too sad, I have no word for it.

On a somewhat brighter note, Anne achieved what she wanted:

“I want to get on; I can’t imagine that I would have to lead the same sort of life as Mummy and Mrs Van Daan and all the women who do their work and are then forgotten. I must have something besides a husband and children, something that I can devote myself to! I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me.”

And so does she go on living after her death. She’s been immortalized through her diary and people from all over the world reading her writing. If only she knew..

Mee’s rating: 5/5

 

 

My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante

First published in Italy in 2011. Published in English by Europa Editions in 2012. Translated by Ann Goldstein. I received my paperback copy from Europa Editions. Elena Ferrante is pseudonym and her real identity is kept secret. 

I had quite a high expectation going into this book, because of the popularity. And I can’t say it met my expectation.

My Brilliant Friend is set in 1950s Italy and features two female friends as the main characters. The prologue was intriguing. The “brilliant friend” is missing – or to be exact “taking off” without a trace. She’s mentioned as a computer programmer – which is what I do – so I thought this started great! I have never read a book with a female computer programmer as the main character.

But after the prologue – which is the most exciting bit about the book unfortunately – the readers are brought to the very beginning of the two friends relationship. Way way back to childhood, which takes about a quarter, then another three quarter of the book about their adolescence. This might be a matter of personal preference, but in general I’m very impatient reading about childhood and teenage-hood. I love classic children stories with multiple layers that serve adult readers too – if not more, but I avoid YA like a plague. I don’t have patience for it. If you’ve read Jane Eyre, the beginning part that tells Jane’s childhood to teenage-hood was the most boring part for me too. I wish it was cut altogether. And My Brilliant Friend is exactly that part – the part which I think should be cut if talking about Jane Eyre!

Hard to believe I’d say this about a book, but I also found the narration way too linear. I wonder if I’d been reading too many convoluted books? How could I complain that a narration is way too linear? But it is! It literally goes from one small event to another in chronological order. There’s no flash forward or flash back (apart from the prologue), it’s point a to b to c to d to e – a long tedious Beverly Hills 90210 style, with a web of not very distinguished characters (friends, brothers, sisters) hooking up with each other. The similar names really didn’t help. There are Rino, Nino, and Gino. Really? Even the two main characters are called Lila – sometimes Lina, and Lenu – or Elena. There’s a big list of character names at the beginning of the book, which I referred to a lot at first, but gave up after a while, because I stopped caring. I was bored. Halfway through I switched to audio book and continued on audio. I doubt I’d finish it without the audio book.

So yeah, I can’t say I liked this book very much. I suspect the next books are probably better and where all the juicy bits are, but at the moment it seems very unlikely for me to continue to the next ones in the series. I may try Ferrante’s other shorter books, but I don’t have a definite plan now. I read they’re going to make TV series based on this, I may just watch that.

Underwhelmed.

Mee’s rating: 3/5

My Brilliant Friend on audible

Dance by the Light of the Moon – Judith Vanistendael

Published in English in 2010 by Self Made Hero (first published in Belgium, 2007)

I went to a panel of European Graphic Novelists a couple of years ago at the British Library (wrote a little about here), and one of the panelists was Belgian author Judith Vanistendael. Her semi-biographical graphic novel based on her own experience falling in love with a refugee piqued my interest, and I still remembered it as I saw this book at my library one day.

It’s quite surreal reading it now and felt how timely it is, what with the refugee crisis all around us. The book was actually published in 2007, and I imagine the real event was happening even years before that. It is now 2017, and seems the time has finally caught up with the graphic novel.

The first part of the book is told from her father’s perspective (it’s said to be in response to the short story written by the author’s father), the second part is told in flashback by the protagonist, Sophie, to her young daughter.

The man in question is from Togo, who sought asylum in Belgium. Despite prejudice and skepticism, Sophie’s parents try their best to stand by their daughter and open their home to Abou. I found it quite touching actually, and could feel the parents’ mixed feelings in particular. After all it’s not just skin color they had to overcome – that’s probably the least of the problems, it’s the vastly different background and culture, socio-economic factor, not to mention residential status. Abou’s refugee application may not even be accepted and the potential to be deported is looming.

Here we get a glimpse of how complicated and how fragile the refugee application process is. The fact is only a small percentage of applications would succeed, and there are too many factors – at times seemingly arbitrary – at play. In my life I’ve gone through many immigration processes, and I could relate in some ways. You’re at the complete mercy of unknown individuals “up there”, you never know if one single tiny oversight could cause rejection, and once rejected, there’s very little you can do. It costs a lot of time, a lot of money, and not to mention emotional toll. It makes you feel very very small.

The black and white illustrations are very effective, and beautiful in showing the black and white skin individuals. I think this book definitely deserves a wider audience.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

 

Chess – Stefan Zweig

Chess - ZweigChess

Chess or Chess Story is a novella by Stefan Zweig, a German-speaking Austrian author. It’s been published by a few of my favorite publishers, as pictured above, i.e. NYRB Classics, Pushkin Press, though I read the more humble edition published by Penguin:

Chess

The book is tiny. With 80 pages long, I wondered how it managed to be published on its own, and not with a collection of some sort. It’s borderline long short-story.

Stefan Zweig was someone that I’d been meaning to read for a while. He’s the kind of author that I may have missed had I not read blogs — so loved he is by the book blogging community. Though The Grand Budapest Hotel has probably helped to raise his profile more. I already have a few of his books ready, but as we’re nearing the end of 2016, with still quite a few book commitments at hand, I decided to choose his shortest book: Chess.

And what a compelling read it was. What story telling! The book is set in a large passenger steamer going from New York to Buenos Aires. Words go around that there’s a world chess champion on board. Thus the scene is set quickly. The setting is laid, the gun is out on the table.

We’re then told the fascinating background story of this champion, who you may think at this point is the main character of the story. But hold on, he’s not. There’s more to come.

I absolutely enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more of Stefan Zweig’s work. Should I read Beware of Pity next, or The Post-Office Girl? I also have The Society of Crossed Keys – a compilation of Zweig’s writings by Wes Anderson.

Mee’s rating: 5/5 – a satisfying read from a new-to-me author

Stefan-Zweig-001
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) — Zweig studied in Austria, France, and Germany before settling in Salzburg in 1913. In 1934, driven into exile by the Nazis, he emigrated to England and then, in 1940, to Brazil by way of New York. Finding only growing loneliness and disillusionment in their new surroundings, he and his second wife committed suicide. (Yes, the good one always committed suicide.)

Chess is my first entry for Austria for my Reading the World project, and German Literature Month V (my first time participating!). The book is also included in 1001 books you must read before you die list.

Siddhartha — Hesse / Of Mice and Men — Steinbeck

By this time I am horribly, horribly late in posting about books I’ve read. In fact, some books are already slipping away from my mind, even though I just read them a few months ago. Nevermind that, as I need to get on writing anyway, before they truly vanish from memory a couple of years from now.

Today is about two short books, both by winners of Nobel Prize in Literature. My first time to read Herman Hesse, second time for John Steinbeck.

Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse

siddhartaherman hesse

Siddharta was not quite like what I expected. I was expecting some kind of biography of Siddharta the Buddha, but instead, we follow the journey of another man, also named Siddharta, who seems to be in the shadow of Siddharta the Buddha (his timeline seems to happen after Buddha).

Our character Siddharta goes through a different journey to enlightenment, which I’m not going to go into too much details. I cannot remember much about the ending, so  I can’t tell you even if I want to.

I was very intrigued by Herman Hesse. A German writing about spirituality of the East in the early 1900s (Siddharta was published in 1922) seems unusual. Was it the time when the West started to be fascinated about the East? I wonder what his other books would be like. I might read more from him.

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

of mice and mensteinbeck

I have read East of Eden a few years ago and quite liked it, but to be honest I don’t know if I want read more books by John Steinbeck, purely because of the depression era that he concentrated his writing on; it’s just not where my interest lies.

Of Mice and Men however is so tiny and so popular that I might as well read it. One thing that put me off reading it for a while was that I knew about the ending. I can’t remember how it got spoiled for me, it wasn’t completely spoiled either, but I knew about it roughly. I was waiting for the memory to go away, but it never did, so I read the book anyway, knowing the direction it was heading.

It was a sad and heartfelt little book, exactly like what I expected.  I do wonder if I would read it differently had I not known about the ending. As such, I felt like I was seeing all the author’s techniques in bringing readers to reach the climax, and I don’t think I was ever fully absorbed in the story.

 

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