A stamp can be one of two things. It can be the postage on a letter. Or, it can be something more.
Jillian Cantor‘s 2017 book, The Lost Letter: A Novel, takes place in two different time periods. In 1989, in Los Angeles, Katie is dealing with the one-two punch of her broken marriage and putting her Alzheimer’s stricken father into a nursing home. While going through his things, she discovers a World War II era stamp. Taking it to Benjamin, an appraiser, Katie starts on a journey across time and the continents to discover decades old secrets.
Fifty years earlier, Kristoff is a young orphan in Austria. He is apprenticed to a master stamp engraver and in love with Elena, his teacher’s eldest daughter. The master engraver and his family are Jewish, Kristoff is Christian. When the engraver disappears during Kristallnacht, he joins the resistance and makes a promise that he and Elena will somehow survive.
I loved this book. It was engaging and powerful. It was ultimately the story of love. Not just romantic love between Kristoff and Elena, but the love that a daughter feels for her father. If there was one thing that rang true, it was the image of how emotionally destructive Alzheimer’s disease is. The slow and painful process of watching someone you love being replaced by a shell of their former selves is beyond difficult and requires strength that you may not think you have.
No one goes through life without asking the “what if” question at least once during their lifetime. This question becomes multiplied when it come to war and the loss of life that comes with war.
In the 2013 author Jillian Cantor asked this question in the book, Margot: A Novel.
It’s 1959 in Philadelphia. Margot Frank survived the war and has started a new life as Margie Franklin, living as a Gentile and working in a law firm as a secretary.
Her sister’s diary has become the darling of the publishing world. The movie, based on the book, has just been released into theaters. Margot/Margie’s carefully constructed outer shell begins to crack. While juggling PTSD and survivor’s guilt, Margot/Margie’s past come back to her via a case and an unusually strong emotional bond with her boss.
This book is amazing. When it comes to the story of Anne Frank, her elder sister is often pushed out of the spotlight. In giving Margot the spotlight, Ms. Cantor tells the story of Holocaust survivors who for any number of reasons, choose to keep their pasts to themselves. It is also the story of America in the late 50’s when antisemitism was not as obvious, but still existed beneath the thin veneer of respectability.
In an ideal world, love would be love would be love. The person who we love would be judged by who they are instead of being judged by factors such as race, sex, religion, etc. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. When we are growing up, many of us are told by our elders that we should fall in love and marry someone because he or she is the same race, religion or comes from the same part of the world as we do.
In the new novel, In Another Time: A Novel, by Jillian Cantor, Max Beissinger and Hanna Ginsberg are young and in love. But the world they live in is doing everything it can to keep them apart. Max, a bookstore owner is Christian. Hanna, a concert violinist, with talent and drive to burn, is Jewish. In their world of early 1930’s Germany, their relationship is forbidden. But Max has a secret that makes him disappear for long stretches of time-a secret which could save Hanna’s life.
In 1946, Hanna wakes up in a field outside of Berlin. With no memory of the last ten years and no information about Max, she moves to London to live with her sister’s family. Her only solace is her music. But even with her music and working toward her dream of becoming a professional musician, Max is never from her thoughts.
I’ve many Holocaust books, but this book is different for a couple of reasons. It’s different because many Holocaust books focus solely on the experience of the Jews. In this book, the Christian characters are given a spotlight, which is nice change of pace. There is also a science fiction element to the narrative, making it rise above the standard Holocaust novel.
I have to commend the author, from one writer to another writer. Many writers attempt to create parallel narratives in different time periods in which different characters carry the narrative, but few are able to do so in a way that does not confuse or lose the reader along the way. Ms. Cantor is able to jump between time periods and first person character point of views while keeping the reader engaged.