The Book That Made Me Write About The Holocaust

January 28 2015
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Kristin Harmel is the internationally bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and the recently published novel The Life Intended. Kristin has also written four previous women’s fiction novels, as well as two young adult novels. Her work has been featured in People, Woman’s Day, Men’s Health, Runner’s World, and Ladies’ Home Journal, among many other media outlets. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

Growing up, I was a voracious reader. I consumed the whole Bobbsey Twins series, followed by Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Three Investigators, the Baby-sitters Club, and more. I loved making up stories of my own, too, and when I wasn’t busy fantasizing about having a career as a pop singer, I was thinking about how, one day, maybe I’d be lucky enough to write books.  But as I got older, I realized I also wanted to do something important with my life. My walls were plastered with posters of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy (both idols of mine although I grew up in the ’80s, not the ’60s!), and I gave impromptu speeches to classmates about how racism and prejudice were wrong. I wanted my life to make a difference. In my mind, books were meant to entertain people, not to change the world, so I didn’t know I’d eventually reconcile the two goals.

But then I read Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, and everything shifted for me. It was around 1990, and the sweet young girl who had written the indelible words should have been getting ready to turn sixty-one; instead, she had already been gone for forty-five years. Yet her voice hadn’t been silenced. Far from it—her words had long outlived her and had been changing lives around the world for generations. I’m certain that a large percentage of the people who read Anne Frank’s words were forever changed for the better, if only just a little. I know that I was.  And for the first time, I realized that I, too, could do something important by putting words on a page. Books, I discovered, could move people, inspire people, shape people just as the words of my childhood heroes did.

During my teen years, I read and reread Anne Frank’s beautiful diary dozens of times. It was the book that made me sure I wanted to be a writer, and it has stayed with me more than anything else I’ve ever read.  Because of the connection I’ve always felt to Anne Frank, the Holocaust has always been of special interest to me. I started off my career writing chick lit—my first novel, How to Sleep with a Movie Star, came out in 2006—but the human side of the Holocaust was always something I wanted to tackle. Between 2009—when my Italian for Beginners was published—and 2012—when The Sweetness of Forgetting came out—I went through a big professional change from writing novels that tackled smaller issues in a light way to writing novels that tackled more meaningful issues in a deeper way. It only made sense that the Holocaust would have a place in the first book of that new phase of my career. The Sweetness of Forgetting had been brewing within me for years, and in a small way, it’s my own ode to the writer who most changed my life: Anne Frank.

One final note: Every one of my books has had a minor character or a place named Anne—after the little girl whose long-ago words inspired me. If you pick up The Sweetness of Forgetting, or my new novel, The Life Intended, see if you can find those small tributes to her within the pages.

The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank

Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank's remarkable diary has since become a world classic—a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short.

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