Definitive teenager

31st January 1997 at 00:00
THE DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL: THE DEFINITIVE EDITION By Anne Frank Edited by Otto H Frank and Mirjam Pressier Viking Pounds 16

Reva Klein reads the unexpurgated version of Anne Frank's Diary. Since the publication of Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl in 1947, the author has been transformed into a symbol of martyrdom. This construction of St Anne is an understandable phenomenon. The world, in its inability to confront the essential meaning of the Holocaust, craved a vehicle through which to expiate its guilt.

And Anne Frank has presented us with such an opportunity through her goodness, her optimism, her utter lack of bitterness. The girl who was ennobled by her suffering ennobles the rest of us as we pay homage to her fortitude.

Heavy editing of the diary by her father Otto immediately after the war made Anne's metamorphosis from teenager to icon possible. Her father, the only one of the family to survive the concentration camps, took great pains to excise references to subjects and people which he considered inappropriate. Careful and traditional gentleman that he was, and living in a world with different thresholds of decency from our own, the bereaved father omitted completely or partially Anne's writings on the changes her pubescent body was going through, her short-lived but intense obsession with Peter, her sometimes unkind observations on her family and the others living cheek by jowl in the secret annexe and the myriad irritations and moods understandable in a 13-year-old cooped up indoors with the same people for two years.

While it did not stop many generations of young people the world over being captivated and moved by her story, it did keep from us the three dimensionality of this quintessentially adolescent girl.

The definitive edition of the Diary of a Young Girl puts back what Otto took out and treats the text to a wholly superior new translation by Susan Massotty. It also shows us the annotations that Anne herself added in 1944 to entries written two years previously. These were in response to a radio broadcast from a spokesman for the Dutch government in exile announcing a plan to collect eyewitness accounts of the experiences of the Dutch people under German occupation for posterity - including diaries. The broadcast captured the 15-year-old writer's imagination. From then on, she harboured her own plan to publish a book after the war based on her diary and set about rewriting and editing her old entries.

The new version, containing approximately 30 per cent more material than the original published diary, is a revelation. Mirjam Pressler's enlightened editing has injected a vibrancy and youthful credibility to the material that was lacking before. Anne is metamorphosed from slightly wooden museum piece to a complicated girl who has her ups and downs and comes across as startlingly contemporary.

Take the entries for March 17 1944. In the old version edited by Otto Frank, 15-year-old Anne complains about her parents: "Something else, especially about me, that doesn't please them: I don't feel like giving lots of kisses any more and I think fancy pet names are frightfully affected. In short, I'd really like to be rid of them for a while." In the new translation previously excised bits are included to good effect: "There's something else that displeases them: I no longer feel like giving them little kisses morning, noon and night. All those little nicknames seem so affected, and Father's fondness for talking about farting and going to the lavatory is disgusting. In short, I'd like nothing better than to do without their company for a while, and they don't understand that."

She also emerges, in a previously omitted passage from June 13, 1944, as a thoroughly modern feminist railing against the "system of values and the men who don't acknowledge how great, difficult, but ultimately beautiful women's share in society is." Given the by then appalling circumstances in which she and her fellow prisoners were living, the very fact that she was thinking about the inequality of the sexes is a testament to her lively mind. Six weeks after that entry was written, she and the others were discovered and transferred to Westerbork transit camp before being deported to Auschwitz. Anne and her sister Margot died in Bergen Belsen a few weeks before liberation in April 1945.

This edition will shine a new light on Anne Frank for those who have read the original diary. And for readers new to her, including young people who are the age she was when she started writing, it will be an immensely powerful and enjoyable introduction to the multi-faceted person that she was and the world that she inhabited - a world, in many ways, not so different from our own.

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