Books: An extrovert, flighty teenager who became a celebrity saint

If you wander into the bookshop Borders looking for works on the Holocaust, you will find an extensive section in "History" dealing with the Second World War, but nothing on the Holocaust. Instead a notice directs you to "Religion" where "Holocaust" appears as a sub-heading amid "Astrology", "Sufism" and "Inspirational Islam". Here are there are works on and by Anne Frank, which are also kept in children's books. If the Holocaust has become a secular religion, then its patron saint is undoubtedly Anne Frank.

Millions have been reared on stories about Hitler's most famous victim, whose best-selling diary spawned a mini-industry in memoirs and related writing, a Pulitzer-prize-winning play and Oscar-winning film, among other adaptations, museums, charitable foundations and educational trusts, and countless exhibitions. Indeed, "Anne Frank" is a registered trademark akin to "Coca-Cola" or "Michael Jackson". In the process she herself has been dehistoricised and deracinated, her life-story sanitised and sentimentalised. Its moral - "In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart" - may be filleted from the Diary, but its context is ignored. The subtleties and complexities of Frank's text are reduced to a romantic tale of universal redemption.

In a sense, of course, the material invites such treatment. Anne is an innocent girl-child with huge dark eyes and a mercurial grin, a budding writer who, yearning for the fame and immortality of literary achievement, overcomes many obstacles to develop her great gift, only for cruel fate to cut her off before her prime. The Diary and its attendant photos necessarily couldn't depict life after the inhabitants left the annex - denunciation, arrest and deportation, their appalling progress through Westerbork, the Dutch concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen- Belsen, the ghastly deaths of all the annex's inhabitants except Otto Frank. With these left out, however, the story is liable to become a children's adventure yarn - a sort of Famous Five Hide in the Attic. Little wonder, then, that 1950's German and Japanese audiences happily lapped it up as "their" memory of the Holocaust or other war crimes. Half a century later a reassessment is overdue.

Biography might seem an obvious way to recover the individual behind the myth. In an Afterword to Melissa Muller's biography, Miep Gies, one of those who supplied the annex with provisions and rescued Frank's writing for posterity, writes: "Anne's life and death were her own individual fate, an individual fate that happened six million times over. Anne cannot, and should not, stand for the many individuals whom the Nazis robbed of their lives. Each individual had his or her own outlook on life; each victim occupied a unique, personal place in the world and in the hearts of his or her relatives and friends." But these two biographies of Frank, the first ever written for adults, can't quite pull this off. In part, their failure is inevitable. What is interesting and distinctive about a subject's life is not usually to be found in their first 15 years, which is all there is of Frank's: nobody knows what Jesus did until he was 30. Even a psychoanalytic account, which neither of these books aspires to, requires more information about Frank than is available. Consequently, both end up presenting her life up to July 1942, when both the period in hiding and her diary begin, as rather flat and trivial. Both pad out the narrative with family history, which rarely rises above a blur of genealogical facts or the banal detail characteristic of round-robin letters.

The biographical fallacy - that an author's life explains her work - seems at its most absurd in the quest for the special qualities which destined the child for literary stardom. Carol Ann Lee quotes scores of people who knew Frank, admired the Diary and have promoted memoirs and anecdotes on the back of her celebrity, groping for something truly remarkable about her, some presage of greatness. Despite the retrospective wishes of all concerned, Frank was no prodigy, but a pretty ordinary child. Delicate, extrovert, imaginative, fun-loving, appealing, confident - but also rather silly, vain, flighty, flirtatious and driven by a craving for attention. Significantly, her father doted on her, indulging and encouraging her fondness for story-telling and performing. On the basis of her pre-Diary life, she is more Erica Jong in embryo than Nadine Gordimer.

Lee, whose book is much more honest than Muller's, recognises the limitations of biography. Comparing Frank's original diary with the version she worked up for publication, she observes that the former "is that of an ordinary teenager living in exceptional circumstances, which she largely ignores, preferring to write about boys, school, friends, the ping-pong club and her birthday party". How far Frank eludes those who try to depict her only becomes clear when the narrative moves to the annex and can use Frank's own words. For the first time, we have access to her extraordinary inner development, even as she cultivates it both as a means of survival and for her imagined public. Lee and Muller offer no more insights into this than Frank herself. Even her father admitted, on reading his daughter's work after the war, that he had never really known her.

Neither author addresses the problems in picking and mixing material from interviews, statements and memoirs about Frank's life. Lee admits there are "discrepancies, mainly due to lapses in time, memory and perspective", but asks us to take her patchwork of quotations on trust as "based on events as they have been most frequently reported". Muller claims nothing in her book is invented, that she avoids conjecture and that she draws attention to discrepancies. In fact, Muller goes all- out for a penny-dreadful approach, reeling off anachronistic questions as if she were inside her characters' heads. A creaky translation of Muller's original German doesn't help. Despite Lee's much more restrained and sober style, she also cannot avoid speculating about Anne and her father's chats about sex, the state of the Franks' marriage and whether it was one of convenience. She reaches opposite conclusions to Muller. Yet both biographers are first and last Anne Frank fans, early readers who identified with their heroine-writer and see in her fate the triumph of art over adversity.

Both books are nevertheless valuable in placing the Frank story on a broader historical canvas. Though Lee is sometimes clunking, Muller mawkish and impressionistic, both chart anti-semitic persecution in Holland, comparing the Franks' experience with that of other Dutch Jews at the time (their annex was almost palatial compared to other Jews' hiding places). They also follow up what happened to a large cast of characters acquainted with the Franks, underlining the humdrum lottery of death and survival under Nazism. Muller is rather skimpy on the concentration camp experiences, the most important and unpalatable part of the story. Lee, by contrast, succeeds at last in showing how this degraded and dehumanised Anne Frank, and, in March 1945, finally killed her.

Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map