The story of Anne Frank has become a universal tale, and her diary has become one of the world’s most famous books. No matter how many times you read the story — of Anne and her family hiding in an attic in Amsterdam — your heart breaks every time.
If Anne Frank’s tale is so universal, her story so well known, her name forever associated with the tragedies of the Holocaust, why is a graphic adaptation needed? Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaption does not diminish the original, but enhance it.
Ari Folman (words) and David Polonsky (illustration) decided to supplement Anne’s original diary with graphics because they wanted to “bring the diary into the twenty-first century.” Their goal was to retain as much of the original diary as possible and supplement it with visuals; it is not meant to replace the original diary. And nor should it replace the original. But, reading the graphic adaptation, the story comes alive in a different way.
As a Booklist review explains, “This adaptation is first and foremost a remembrance of that Anne, who, despite living a life marred by tragedy, tried by indignities, always held true to herself… This is an exceptionally graceful homage to a story that deserves to be told for years to come.”
What struck me while reading Folman and Polonsky’s adaption was how well they captured Anne’s spirit and subtly wove her tale with what was happening outside of the attic. It also imagines the dialogue Anne may have had with her parents, with her sister, Margot, and with Anne’s crush, Peter.
In one two-page spread, Anne’s diary text from November 8, 1943 is reprinted verbatim: “I simply can’t imagine the world will ever be normal again for us. I do talk about ‘after the war,’ but it’s as if I were talking about a castle in the air, something that can never come true. I see the eight of us in the Annex as if we were a patch of blue sky surrounded by menacing black clouds. The perfectly round spot on which we’re standing is still safe, but the clouds are moving in on us, and the ring between us and the approaching danger is being pulled tighter and tighter. We’re surrounded by darkness and danger, and in our desperate search for a way out we keep bumping into each other…”
The text is in a box in the top-right hand page of the spread, and Polonsky draws what Anne is imagining: the eight of them, on a cloud, surrounded by menacing black clouds. The image is so powerful, more so because it’s based off of Anne’s lyrical diary entry.
In the afterward notes, Folman notes, “We made no attempt to guess in what manner Anne might have drawn her diary if she had been an artist instead of a writer.” They simply interpret her words as she wrote them.
In her September 16, 1943 entry, Anne writes about how she takes valerian, a sleep aid, to fight her anxiety and depression. In the graphic adaption, there’s just one excerpt from this: “I’ve been taking valerian every day to fight the anxiety and depression.” Underneath, in five panels, Anne is drawn as ashen and grey; once she takes the pill, flowers cover her face and body. Anne is then seen falling out of the flowers into masses of SS troops. The mix of fantasy sequences, text from her original diary, and evocative graphics help bring Anne’s text to life.
In another panel, based off her October 7, 1942 entry, when Anne imagines she’s gone to Switzerland and lists everything she would bring, the adaptation inventively draws out everything on her list (three undershirts, one dressing gown, two winter dresses, one raincoat, etc.). In the center, there’s an image of Anne and her father in Switzerland, how Anne would have possibly imagined it. And, underneath the panel, there’s the text from Anne: “That sort of daydream, with so many details, is what happens when you’re in hiding for an unknown period of time.”
I could keep going, there are so many pages I bookmarked, but you should really just go read it for yourself.
All images credit Anne Frank Fonds