“I should begin with the simplest of truths: I am alive.” Jillian Cantor, MARGOT
MARGOT by Jillian Cantor comes out today from Riverhead/Penguin, and is 352 pages. I received an early copy for review, and I realized very quickly that I would recommend MARGOT on my blog. It was as heartfelt and captivating a novel as I’ve read in a long time.
MARGOT is an imagining of what might have happened if Anne Frank’s sister Margot had survived. It takes place in 1959 in Philadelphia, where Margot has recreated her life as Margie Franklin. In an attempt to outrun her past, she has forsaken her religion, and simply wishes to blend in to American society. The horrid tattoo on her forearm that she must cover at all costs and in all seasons, however, is a constant reminder and a kind of extended incarceration she experiences at the hands of the Nazis.
When the film about her sister’s diary suddenly opens at the movies, Margie’s attempts at hiding and suppressing her past become increasingly difficult. Friendships and loving relationships further deepen her lies, and she continues to hide until a case at the law firm where she works as a secretary forces her to confront her past or forever live as a victim of it.
MARGOT is my favorite kind of fiction. Using historical facts and people we know and love, Cantor fills in the lost details of their lives with her imagination, and reaps a beautiful and redeeming tale for a terrible chapter in history. Her scenes are immediate and realistic, and she brings Anne Frank and her sister to new life, while giving one of them a chance at a better future. This book not only feels like a prayer for Margot and Anne, but for the many voiceless men and women whose memory deserves recognition.
What is particularly moving about the novel is the glimpse at what life must have been like for survivors of the holocaust. So much of what is written about WWII takes place before and during the action of the war, or even at the time of the liberation. The continued hell of post-traumatic stress that the survivors must have faced through the daily reminders of their tattoos, hearing backfiring cars, or watching ashes fall from burning cigarettes is unimaginable. Cantor weaves in these details with clarity and care, giving the reader not only the facts of Margie’s new life, but the psychological implications of continuing to hide from her old one.
MARGOT is a courageous and well-written period piece with memorable characters. Whether or not you know Anne Frank through her diary, you must expand your understanding of her family and what one would hope for those like them by reading MARGOT. I give it my highest recommendation.