Lara Vapnyar came to the U.S. from Russia in 1994. Her short star)’ collection is There Are Jews in My House (Pantheon, December 2003). She says, “Like most Russian Jewish people I grew up having very little idea of Jewish history, religion, or habits, but with a very strong sense that being Jewish is something shameful and inferior.”
At the age of 10, I didn’t find the book tragic at all. I thought of their experience as an adventure, something like Robinson Crusoe’s life on the island. I fantasized about living like them, and made various schemes in my head of what dishes I would have cooked with dried peas, what games I could play when it was dark and the electricity was out, or how I would manage to use the toilet without producing a sound. The most memorable thing for me was that Amie, being the youngest, was growing very fast, and grew out of her clothes. I couldn’t imagine what I would have done if all my clothes were either too tight or too small.
One reason for my lack of sadness could have been that the book is all about life. Anne is so hungry for every experience life can grant her. As a child, it was very hard for me to connect Anne’s diary with death.
Re-reading The Diary as an adult is a completely different experience. In the sea of Holocaust literature, most books, understandably, are written by survivors or witnesses. Anne Frank diary is a rare exception. The fact that it is written by a child makes it reach to your heart in a more profound way than even the greatest works of literature.