Margot/Jillian Cantor: Reflections

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I took this photograph a few months ago in a part of Philadelphia I'm sure my friend Jillian Cantor knows well. The words stopped me. I had a hunch they'd come in handy some time. I had no idea just how handy, however, until I read Jillian's wonderfully conceived and executed new novel, Margot (Riverhead, September 2013).

For there, at the heart of this novel, in the heart of Philadelphia, in the middle of last century, is a young thirty-three year old woman whose identity has been masked by many small lies and a sweater whose one tight sleeve never reveals the ink on her arm. She is a law firm employee, a paralegal student, a responsible young woman whom no one knows. She lives in a small apartment with her silent cat. She remembers love and may be falling in love. She is Margot Frank, Anne's older sister, and she, history be damned, is not dead.

Her sister's diary has just been released as a major film. Gossip—and gossipers—are closing in. She is inclined to run when others might walk, to see dangers where the easy-going Americans don't, to pretend that she is Polish when she is not. And as her past and present worlds collide, she must decide what to hold onto and what to reclaim and how much of herself she should blame for her sister's death.

Reviving Margot Frank as the American Margie Franklin is such a smart reversion of history that I had to stop myself, as I read, from going all fan-girl Facebook on Jillian. (Well, I did surcease at the 50-page mark to tell her how cool I thought this whole thing was.) And Jillian, who once lived near Philadelphia, accurately portrays the city at mid-last-century—the streets, the delis, the Reading Terminal Market, John Wanamaker's, the Main Liners. Just as accurate, I suspect, is Jillian's portrayal of the Franks' years in hiding, the Green Police, the horrors of the concentration camps. Too many writers of historical fiction seem to think they have done their job if they bundle a few era-specific brand names, dress styles, and street signs together, then tell the story that would have fit the present day. Jillian's research goes far deeper and comes, I absolutely believe, from a real desire not just to write a story, but to empathize, to know. Still, none of that research obfuscates the tale. None of it gets in the way of the language itself. This is a book that can be read in one sitting, and that will be remembered long after that.

There's suspense here, history, sister love, guilt, and streets that go dark but do not sleep. I have big expectations for this novel when it is released, and a whole lot of respect for Jillian.


Joanne R. Fritz said...

Wow! Now I really must read this book. I remember being impressed by Jillian's The Life of Glass.

Amy said...

aw yay I'm very much looking forward to this one.

Serena said...

this sounds so unique and fascinating!

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