The Diary of Tan Frank

An excerpt from “Chingford Hall”

Auntie Betty in America bought me The Diary of Anne Frank for my thirteenth birthday, and when I confessed how much I was moved by the tragic tale of the girl who like me was Jewish and thirteen and a writer, and whose last name was Frank, she bought me my very own diary in green mock leather. It locked with a key, and it was this that made me wild with excitement.

“You can confide in these pages,” Auntie Betty said, “make them your own.”

I hoped that Anne Frank might be a relative of mine, however distant. We seemed to share a certain likeness, something about the way our thick dark hair waved at the nape of our neck, and our eyes shone. I stared at her photograph in the preface of the book, and when I penned my own pages, I took myself into the hall cupboard, where it was dark and confined, and I had to use a torch, where I could better imagine what it meant to be in hiding. I wanted to know myself and Mum and Auntie Betty like I knew Anne, I longed to discover all the Yiddisher secrets that had been hidden away over the years.

I looked at the silver key that locked my dairy, at the words that made those pages my own, and I wondered what it would mean to leave a legacy in words. Would it differentiate me from my ancestors who I couldn’t even name, those who had perished in gas chambers and been flung, skeletally thin and twisted into unnamed mass graves. Who were these people and who was I?