Anne Frank, in the Eyes o† a Graphic Me­moirist

Forward Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Talya Zax ●

ANNE FRANK’S DI­ARY: THE GRAPHIC ADAP­TA­TION Adapted by Ari Fol­man Il­lus­trated by David Polon­sky Pan­theon, 160 pages, $24.95 When I think o what Anne Frank looked like, I think of her eyes. In pho­to­graphs they are deep-set and trans­par­ent, thought­ful and of­ten joy­ful. Looks de­ceive, but in Frank’s gaze it is pos­si­ble to lo­cate the de­ter­mined, search­ing clar­ity with which she looked at the world.

In a new graphic ver­sion of Frank’s di­ary — adapted by Ari Fol­man, writer and di­rec­tor of “Waltz With Bashir,” with il­lus­tra­tions by David Polon­sky, lead artist on the same film — this most elu­sive of Frank’s fea­tures is best cap­tured in a pic­ture that imag­ines her as she never got to be. The il­lus­tra­tion comes late in the book. In it, an adult Frank, seated in front of a wall of framed mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers (some of which fea­ture her ado­les­cent self on the cover) wears one of the beau­ti­ful dresses she mov­ingly wrote of de­sir­ing. She is a woman rev­el­ing in some­thing Frank her­self ex­celled at find­ing, even in the most cramped and des­per­ate of cir­cum­stances: choice.

The woman in the image is ma­ture, but her eyes more closely re­sem­ble Frank’s as they were in life than those of the teenaged Frank who pop­u­lates most of the pages of this adap­ta­tion, which is writ­ten as if Frank had con­structed her di­ary as a graphic mem­oir. In Polon­sky’s il­lus­tra­tions, Frank can look like a less un­usual child than she in fact was, com­ing across as al­most spritely, with a look of easy won­der and easy hurt. The ap­peal of this ap­proach at first ap­pears ob­vi­ous: Chil­dren are vis­ual, and this vis­ual story makes Frank’s tragedy more ac­ces­si­ble. Still, one won­ders: Is there truly a need for a child’s first en­counter with Frank to be with a ver­sion of her that is less com­pli­cated than she was?

In fact, what this “graphic adap­ta­tion” makes un­mis­tak­ably clear is that Frank, even as she is her­alded as a voice for the vic­tims of the Holo­caust and the twisty bril­liance of young wom­an­hood, is un­der­rated as a voice for chil­dren — not only those forced by cir­cum­stance to grow up be­fore their time, but also those

whose youth is un­marred by trauma. Fol­man writes that his book could in­cor­po­rate only about ‹% of Frank’s let­ters to her beloved imag­i­nary cor­re­spon­dent, “Kitty.” Yet, late in Frank’s di­ary, Fol­man notes, her “tal­ents as a writer grow ever more im­pres­sive.” “It seemed in­tol­er­a­ble to forgo these later en­tries in fa­vor of il­lus­tra­tions,” he writes, “and so we chose to re­pro­duce long pas­sages in their en­tirety, unil­lus­trated.”

Those unadul­ter­ated pas­sages burst forth from the page. Frank’s last en­try, a stun­ning evo­ca­tion of what it is to feel that you are more than you can pos­si­bly un­der­stand, makes the adap­ta­tion all the more wrench­ing, given what the reader knows: that tor­mented med­i­ta­tion on the puz­zle of self­hood would be the last thing Frank ever wrote: “A voice within me is sob­bing, ‘You see, that’s what’s be­come of you. You’re sur­rounded by neg­a­tive opin­ions, dis­mayed looks, and mock­ing faces, peo­ple who dis­like you, and all be­cause you don’t lis­ten to the ad­vice of your bet­ter half.”

All chil­dren have such mo­ments, the wretched times at which they first rec­og­nize their own flaws. Why should they be un­der­es­ti­mated, such that we think they are not ready to process Frank’s messy and truth­ful un­der­stand­ing of youth in full? There is a retroac­tive hope­ful­ness in nearly ev­ery re-craft­ing of Frank’s story. Adults write these adap­ta­tions. They know what Frank knew but re­fused to suc­cumb to, which is that life works to strip each of us of the qual­i­ties that she most prized. Fol­man high­lights Frank’s pas­sion­ate, al­most moral com­mit­ment to in­de­pen­dence, her an­thro­pol­o­gist’s eye, her unique psy­cho­log­i­cal in­sight and her pro­found un­der­stand­ing that pes­simistm de­val­ues life. What he and Polon­sky can’t quite cap­ture is the pre­cise lus­ter of those qual­i­ties as they were re­lated by some­one who had yet to know what it was to lose them.

Can a pic­ture ever en­cap­su­late the strange won­der of the girl in the in­be­tween mo­ment in which, due to her di­ary, she ex­ists per­pet­u­ally? Above Polon­sky’s el­e­gant il­lus­tra­tion of the adult Frank, Fol­man’s ver­sion of Frank’s text makes for a pierc­ing epi­graph. “What I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing here is a good be­gin­ning to an in­ter­est­ing life,” Frank writes, “and that’s the rea­son — the only rea­son — why I have to laugh at the hu­mor­ous side of the most dan­ger­ous mo­ments.” “Anne Frank’s Di­ary: The Graphic Adap­ta­tion” strives to make Frank feel fa­mil­iar, and it does, but it can’t live up to the unique ge­nius of its sub­ject. Read­ers, and es­pe­cially chil­dren, de­serve to en­counter Frank’s sense of hu­mor and dan­ger, just as she wrote it. Her world is best re­lated as it ap­peared: through her eyes.

Talya Zax is the For­ward’s deputy cul­ture ed­i­tor.

COUR­TESY OF PEN­GUIN RAN­DOM HOUSE

AS THE WORLD BURNS: Au­teur Ari Fol­man and il­lus­tra­tor David Polon­sky’s new­est ef­fort is a graphic adap­ta­tion of Anne Frank’s Di­ary of a Young Girl.’

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