Margot by Jillian Cantor; published 2013 by Riverhead Books
Genre: Historical fiction
Review in a word: Hopeful
“And let us not forget Margot, who kept her own diary, which was never found.” – Miep Gies
“I should begin with the simplest of truths: I am alive.”
Margot Frank, the forgotten sister of Anne Frank, is the narrator of this story. She was not killed by typhus as the records show; she jumped off of a cargo train and escaped from the Nazis. Now she has moved to Philadelphia, where she wears sweaters everyday to cover the tattoo on her left arm and goes by the very Gentile, American name of Margie Franklin. Knowing that Anti-Semitism is still alive and well in some parts of the US and wishing to leave her terrible past behind, Margie is in constant hiding. But she works for a handsome Jewish lawyer, Joshua Rosenstein, and he takes a case defending some Jewish workers and Holocaust survivors. At the same time, the movie of The Diary of Anne Frank is released and everyone around her is suddenly talking about it, misconstruing what Margot remembers of her time in the Annex. Suddenly, Margie finds herself living in the memories she tried to bury.
Meanwhile, Margie is still trying to find Peter, the boy who lived in the Annex with them. The world knows that Anne liked Peter, but they don’t know that Margie and Peter had also liked each other, had also kissed. Peter had promised that one day they would meet again in the City of Brotherly Love. Margie looks for Peter, but as she works closer with Joshua, she finds a love that just might help her heal, if she can admit who she truly is.
This book somehow manages to be incredibly sad and sweet and hopeful at the sametime. Margie lives with PTSD and paranoia, but Cantor doesn’t let Margie’s stifling fear and guilt stifle the pace of the book or the reader’s interest. Surprisingly (and thankfully), Cantor spares us gory details of the concentration camps, instead focusing on the fictionalized sweet memories of the one bright spot in Margot’s experience of the Annex: Peter. And in the present, Joshua is just as sweet.
One of the major themes of the book is lying, what it means to be a liar and the various reasons one might need to lie. Margie has built a wall of secrets and lies around herself to keep the past hidden and, she hopes, heal. But of course, she can’t heal without coming clean. Her confession to Joshua is heart-squeezing. I’m sure it was tempting for Cantor to close with a fairy tale happy ending, but she doesn’t. Dramatic professions of love are not Margie’s style; they’re Anne’s. Cantor’s ending is very satisfying.
“Lying can be a second skin, but when you are called out on a lie, it becomes all too easy for that skin to start to peel away.”
“As a liar, a pretend person, you cannot really truly ever be someone’s friend. My American life, it is lonely. Often, it is very, very lonely.”
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