Over the past 50 years, Anne Frank of Amsterdam has become an emblem of the innocence and brilliance that was destroyed by the Holocaust. Her diary is read and quoted around the world by youngsters, statesmen and scholars alike. But novelist Francine Prose says it's time the diary was appreciated as literature — not just as a historical document.
In her new book Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, Prose examines Frank's tremendous literary gift, as well as her maturity and insight.
"Among the things that's so extraordinary about the book is her unbelievably mature and balanced view of human nature," Prose tells Scott Simon.
Though some readers have criticized Frank's sentimentality, Prose says her voice is a nuanced one that mixes inspiring optimism with the deepest of pessimism. She points out that though the diary begins when Frank is 13, the voice we read is really that of an older, more insightful teen.
"She decided that she wanted the book to be published, and she went back to the beginning and she re-wrote all the entries she wrote as a 13-year-old, except of course now she was a 15-year-old," Prose says.
Prose remembers reading the diary as a child and feeling an immediate connection to the girl who, like herself, experienced problems with her mother and closeness with her father. She adds that she's still struck by the way modern students respond to Frank's words.
"Every time I've talked to students or brought the diary to students and heard what they have to say, I've been incredibly moved by how current it is for them and how much it still affects them all these years later."