Translated for Courage
October 7, 2008 10:23 AM   Subscribe

“I have seen many Anne Franks in Cambodia....Under Pol Pot, many children were separated from their families. They faced starvation and were sent to the front to fight and die,” she explains. “Like Anna, they never knew peace and the warmth of a home.” Translated by Sayana Ser with help from the Dutch embassy in Cambodia (Kampuchea, Khmer), The Diary of Anne Frank has now become one of the most popular and discussed books in this war-torn country.
posted by parmanparman (7 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
This book continues to change the world, one reader at a time. It has been translated into at least 67 languages and more than 31 million copies have been sold. Arguably, it is the most influential book of the 20th century. Similarly to this Cambodian story, it was (and remains) very popular in postwar Japan (it was published there in 1952, and has sold 4 million copies, which is exceeded only by sales in the US).
posted by beagle at 11:13 AM on October 7, 2008

If you're ever in Amsterdam, visit the place she lived.
posted by DreamerFi at 11:20 AM on October 7, 2008

There's something very interest about the appeal of Anne Frank. I think some of it has to do with the fact that she was an assimilated Jew, so her lack of alieness makes her an easy everygirl, and a poignant spokesperson for the hideousness of the Holocaust. But that also makes her a rather atypical victim of the Holocaust -- most of the Jewish dead were in the Pale of Settlement, and were much less assimilated, and, therefore, far more alien than Frank.

I think about this a little every time the subject of Anne Frank comes up. I don't know that it's an issue, really; in some ways, it's poignant. The Jews were killed because they were different, but Anne Frank was killed too, and she was not so very different.

So it's especially interesting to me that she has found such an audience in Kampuchea, where she is bound to be somewhat alien, regardless of her assimilation into mainstream European society. As a restult, I am rethinking my long-held opinion that much of the appeal of Anne Frank was that she was so unJewish, and am starting to think that the appeal might be quite simpler -- that hers is a hell of a sad story, and she told it well in her time in the annex.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:57 PM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Astro Zombie: Would a less assimilated Anne Frank really have been that different, that alien and unrelatable? Was she not, assimilated or not, first and foremost a teenage girl, and a human being?

Her diary is probably my favourite book, and I don't think I love it (I was going to write her there...) because she's an "easy everygirl". She was frequently arrogant, snobby and egotistical - and much of the diary was actually difficult for me to get through, because y'know... it was a teenager's diary. But there was also so much about her that made you root for her - her individuality, her honesty, the loneliness she felt in her own family, her optimism and belief that people were good at heart, her strength of will, her hopes for peace, her dreams of being a writer... and most of all, her growth while she was writing the diary. You watch her grow. And to have it cut short the way it was... There were things that she struggled with that I struggle with now, as an adult. I recognise some things in her that I don't see in many people, adults or children, that made me think we would've made good friends, maybe.

I sense in your comment a kind of puzzlement with how popular her diary is. For me at least, it wasn't really because it was "a hell of a sad story". It was because I got to take a peek into someone's teenage diary - got to hear her angst, her loneliness, her hopes and dreams, got to love her, got to watch her grow and mature as a human being, perhaps far quicker than she would under normal circumstances - got to wonder what a wonderful person she was going to be, as she took all that she learned into adulthood. She was one of those people you're really glad are in the world. And then, her story was finished for her, by war. Of course, I knew the ending before I read it. So it wasn't shock. It wasn't so much sadness. It was anger - anger at the senselessness of it. Her diary represents for me the potential for humanity - how astonishing it is, the way we can grow and mature as a human being, all the things we're capable of learning and enjoying and giving - and a reminder just how many fucking lives like this, full of their potential and dreams and loves and hopes, we have crushed and are crushing and will crush as humanity. All the stories with so much potential that we end prematurely.

I haven't read the book for a while, and I'm a shitty writer with a shitty memory, so can't begin to do it justice. And while in many places in the diary she did write very well, especially for her age - she would've made a good writer, as she wanted - I don't think it is so much that, at least not for me. It is what it represents to us, as humanity - so much potential, so much hope, so easily crushed, snuffed out.

One of my favourite albums is In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, which is at least partly written about Anne Frank. There's a line in it: "And it's so sad to see, the world agrees, that they'd rather see their faces filled with flies - all when I want to keep white roses in their eyes..." The people who support war - who think that civilian casualties in war are acceptable collateral damage - have forgotten, or lost touch, with something. The collateral damage were having their own struggles to grow, to learn and mature and give and love as people - before we ended the story for them. If we could only read their diaries!

The book carries our anger now. And it's used as a reminder of the lives behind the bodies and the numbers and the statistics. It's a reminder for those of us who are sick and tired of it happening. Maybe loving it, and seeing other people love it, gives us hope that there are at least enough of us who doesn't want it to be this way to make it worthwhile to carry on.
posted by Ira_ at 3:29 PM on October 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

It must be noted that there were thousands, likely hundreds-of-thousands, of other Anne Franks during WWII and The Nazi Holocausts. Every mass atrocity produces scores of similar stories, and "Anne Frank" is special because she was so heart-breakingly typical. At least one of them was 'lucky' enough that her tragic story got out, to give all of them a voice.
posted by wendell at 4:56 PM on October 7, 2008

Reading over my earlier comment, I didn't manage to quite get at what I was trying to say. Astro Zombie, you seem to be just thinking over something out loud, working something out, and changing your mind too as you said, so I don't want to come across as critical at all. I just couldn't help feeling that there was a lot in your comment that was insulting and diminishing to Anne Frank and what she means to people, and I reacted to that. I couldn't understand how whether Anne Frank was an assimilated Jew had much to do with her appeal - were and are Jews really so "alien" to people? Were Jewish teenage girls not like other teenage girls too?

Were the Jews killed because they were different culturally? Were they not killed no matter how assimilated they were? It felt like your comment almost disowned Anne Frank as a Jew - I trust that you didn't intend to, but it's really how it's coming across to me. How Jewish do you have to be to be a Jew?

And it kind of saddens me that you seem to be surprised she has connected with people in Kampuchea - where again, you used the word alien. Are we really so different? It just seems to be so the very opposite of the spirit of the book, that you seem to be drawing these lines and boundaries and focusing on differences rather than what we have in common. A teenage girl's struggle with boys, with feeling misunderstood in her family, with her burgeoning sexuality... those are universal. Facing persecution and trying to stay alive in a war is universal. Does that really make her an "easy everygirl"? Is that not diminishing and insulting to who she was and what she achieved? I don't think she ever intended her account to be the account of Jewish experience during the Holocaust. I don't think it's seen as that either.

And Anne Frank wasn't an "easy everygirl" to me because while as wendell said, "there were thousands, likely hundreds-of-thousands, of other Anne Franks during WWII and The Nazi Holocausts. Every mass atrocity produces scores of similar stories" - I responded to Anne Frank's personality. How she responded to what was happening around her and within her. Unless you believe all teenage girls are the same, this is not The Diary of An Average Jewish Girl Who Was Persecuted During the Holocaust. This is the diary of Anne Frank - it was not just an excuse to tell the Holocaust story. It was her diary, and it is her personality and writing that people respond to - if she were such an easy everygirl, there would be many other diaries from that period that are equally loved. Anne Frank gave something special to the world.
posted by Ira_ at 9:38 PM on October 7, 2008

No, that last sentence should be: Anne Frank gave something special of herself to the world.
posted by Ira_ at 9:41 PM on October 7, 2008

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