Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Margot by Jillian Cantor

Margot
by Jillian Cantor
Read: August 18 - 20, 2013
Published: September 3, 2013 by Riverhead Trade*
Source: ARC from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Category: Adult fiction, Alternate history, Margot Frank, Holocaust, 1950s America

NOTE: Margot is not a book that I ever imagined I would read, but it has become a very clear favorite of the year. I encourage you to not pass it by without taking a closer look. 


Official Summary: Anne Frank has long been a symbol of bravery and hope, but there were two sisters hidden in the annex, two young Jewish girls, one a cultural icon made famous by her published diary and the other, nearly forgotten.

In the spring of 1959, The Diary of Anne Frank has just come to the silver screen to great acclaim, and a young woman named Margie Franklin is working in Philadelphia as a secretary at a Jewish law firm. On the surface she lives a quiet life, but Margie has a secret: a life she once lived, a past and a religion she has denied, and a family and a country she left behind.

Margie Franklin is really Margot Frank, older sister of Anne, who did not die in Bergen-Belsen as reported, but who instead escaped the Nazis for America. But now, as her sister becomes a global icon, Margie’s carefully constructed American life begins to fall apart. A new relationship threatens to overtake the young love that sustained her during the war, and her past and present begin to collide. Margie is forced to come to terms with Margot, with the people she loved, and with a life swept up into the course of history. (From Goodreads)
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"I have been hiding for so long that it has become all I am. And I realize I am not even truly certain why I am still hiding, except now it is all I know."**
I knew nothing about the book Margot until I attended a Penguin event this spring, and met the lovely author Jillian Cantor. I remember her telling me about her book and thinking that it sounded like a fascinating and moving concept. But in my head, I was pretty sure that I'd never read it for myself. Mostly, because it seemed like an incredibly sad and depressing story, and I try to avoid those types of books. Plus, I wasn't sure how I would handle an alternate version of what really happened to Margot Frank. But then the publisher sent me a copy of the story, and I felt compelled to read it for myself. It took me a while to work up to starting Margot, but once I opened the first page I was drawn to Margie Franklin, the name that this version of Margot has chosen to hider herself behind. Margie's quiet, but clear voice, her life in America in the late 1950s and her struggle to reconcile who she was with who she is now, all combined to form a moving and surprisingly relevant story. Now after reading Cantor's beautiful book, I am nothing but thankful that I've been given a chance to read it. 

I love stories that look at lesser known characters in well known historical events. Everyone knows who Anne Frank is, and many have read her words or seen her story on the screen. But little is known about her studious sister, Margot, who also hid for two years in the annex, wrote a diary and was captured and sent to Auschwitz along with the rest of her family. What I love so much about the story of Margot Frank turned Margie Franklin, is how well it captures the spirit of the girl who seems perpetually in Anne's shadow. In many ways, Margot is a quiet book, but that is what is brilliant about it. Margot pays homage to Otto Frank's eldest daughter in a way that is respectful and honest. Cantor carefully draws Margot out from the background of her sister's story, and into the forefront of her own. I think that is the beauty of this tale, the way that it reminds us that Margot was a real person too. 

Margot is set in front of a backdrop of working America in the 1950s, when men wore suits, girls wore dresses, and everyone smoked in the office. But despite the cool mid-century vibe to the story, on the outside, Margie Franklin's life doesn't seem all that different from that of a single person today. She works hard as a secretary for a law firm, goes out for drinks with her friends, and sometimes leaves work early when her boss is away. But Margie also wears sweaters and long sleeves all seasons of the year, not for modesty sake, but to hide the numbers on her arm. After spending her life hiding who she is, Margie does not know how to do anything else. That's the second aspect of this book that is so powerful. It is a reminder that when the war ended - when any war or psychological trauma stops - the individual consequences don't disappear. 

Margot is not a loud book, and that is a blessing in many ways, because it forces you to pay attention to the details in the story, and especially to Margot herself. I was surprised by how incredibly real and complex she became to me. How carefully Cantor crafted her. Margot speaks and thinks clearly and articulately, because she learned English as a second language, and has practiced hours to cultivate it. It is a part of her facade as Margie, but it is also a true detail of the girl she had once been, who was always focused on her studies and learned languages and subjects hiding in the annex. Present day Margot struggles with guilt about her past, especially in her relationship with Anne and her actions following their capture. But conversely, she has an incredible amount of grace for the Americans around her, who have no idea what the war was like for a Jewish girl raised in Europe, and are constantly making careless statements. 

But most of all, Margot's instinct to protect herself and keep her past hidden are in conflict with her desire to be known and loved as she is. Margot the Jew believes that her life will be simpler, less complicated and safer as Margie the Gentile. But what is she sacrificing by denying who she is? And what happens when her life is projected on the big screen in her sister's movie, and she is confronted by her own past?

The tragedy and the wonder of Margot is that we know she did die in a concentration camp in 1945. But if she hadn't, this story feels real. Possible. And even if it could never have been Margot's story, it may have been somebody else's. Another person who survived the war and emigrated to America. Or any survivor who struggles to know how to find life again. I know this story sounds heavy and deep, but it is actually incredibly relatable. It even features a very sweet romance. I fell in love with Margot, not because of it's darkness, but because it is a book about redemption and hope.

Love Triangle Factor: Mild. I hate to put ratings in when the love triangle is the least important part of the story, but there is a lovely romance imbedded here. 
Cliffhanger Scale: Standalone 

*I can't thank you enough, Riverhead Trade (Penguin) for the opportunity to read Margot
**Quote taken from an Uncorrected Proof. May change in final version.

21 comments:

  1. Wow, this sounds like a powerful book. Like you were, I'm afraid to read it, but after your review I may give it a try.

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    1. Did you get a copy of this one at BEA? For some reason, I totally missed that section! I wonder all the other books I missed? Thankfully, I met the author at a party and was sent the story. Anyway, I think this book is truly amazing and I hope that you read it and are able to connect with it as much as I did. Powerful is a good word for this story. Seriously, read the first chapter and you will see how easy it is to get into. I was hooked from the start.

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  2. This sounds really good! The 8th graders in my district study the Holocaust and read The Diary of Anne Frank -- this might be a fabulous addition to the unit. I'll have to send the info on to my MS teacher friends. :)

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    1. THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and MARGOT would definitely be interesting if studied in conjunction with each other. Especially, in that MARGOT puts Anne's sister in the foreground, although the author takes a few liberties with her story. MARGOT has been published as an adult book, and Margot is in her early 30s in 1959 when the book takes place. Though we do see glimpses from Margot's time in the annex. However, the book doesn't really have any questionable "adult" content, so I think it would be safe for all ages.

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  3. I'll be honest - I'm still worried about the impending sadness and depression that a topic like this brings - but I love the quiet stories and this seems to be truly worth it. I know I'd have passed by it if you hasn't reviewed it, so I'm really glad you wound up connecting with it so thoroughly and really loving it. It's going straight onto my TBR. :) Fantastic review, Lauren - hands down one of my favorites!

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    1. You can definitely handle this book, Keertana! I fretted so much about starting it, but I seriously read the first few pages and was hooked immediately. It really isn't a sad book - although the circumstances around MARGOT's life are tragic. Jillian Cantor amazingly developed her story in a way that was hopeful, but also true to the characters. I feel incredibly blessed for the opportunity to read it.

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  4. I have seen this around and think I will add it to my list of adult books to check out when the mood strikes me. I just read Rose Under Fire and am pondering some of the same questions about guilt and responsibility following WWII.

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    1. I haven't read ROSE UNDER FIRE yet, but I'm eager to get to it soon. I bet MARGOT and that book would make for a really interesting discussion. MARGOT is truly a favorite of the year and I think everyone should read it. I hope you enjoy!

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  5. I'd seen this book in passing but didn't really pay much attention to it until your review--thank you! I think I have to look into this one. I'm worried about the sadness factor in this book too (saw Keertana's comment), but your reassurance makes me feel better.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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    1. I know it's going to sound crazy, but I read the end of MARGOT with a smile on my face. I don't know how to describe it, but there's something magical in the way that Jillian Cantor wrote her story. I was able to feel hopeful, as if Margot got some true redemption in the end. Or at least I felt like Margot was honored, and that Cantor was able to see her tucked away in the background of Anne's story, and bring her forward. I hope you're able to connect to this story as much as I did.

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  6. I hadn't heard of this before reading your review, but this sounds really good! I also appreciate it when well-known events/situations/people are looked at from an alternate point of view. I agree, though, that it's sad that this is alternate history. I don't read too much YA historical fiction, but I'm much fonder of adult historical fiction. This will certainly be something I keep in mind for when I need an adult historical fiction fix. Lovely review, Lauren!

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    1. I hope that you're able to connect with Margot's story as much as I did, Amanda. I was so wary of the alternate history bent, but Jillian Cantor worked hard to honor Margot despite the fact that this didn't happen. I still feel like she was present in this book, and even though it seems silly, for me this book gave her a little redemption.

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  7. I just read about this book last week, totally by chance and I kind of passed on it. But now I'm reading your review and totally rethinking everything. I'm always so so fearful of historical books and I don't know why. I tend to enjoy them! The effort is worth it. So I will stop being afraid because I love the 50s and the idea of this side of the story is so intriguing.

    Thanks for the great review, Lauren!

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    1. Estelle, this book is truly fantastic. I hope that you get the chance to read it at some point. I too almost passed on this one, but I am so thankful that I took the chance to start it. I was hooked in the first few pages and found the experience to be positive and rewarding. I was afraid that I'd only feel sadness, and instead reading MARGOT was strangely a hopeful experience.

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  8. I honestly don't know what to comment. I like how your view changed about this book once you read it, but I don't know if it's for me. Though I'm happy that you loved it so much. Lovely review, Lauren :)

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    1. Thanks, Aman. I don't know if this book will be for you or not. But I will say that I was very surprised with how much I connected with the story! I'm so happy that I gave it a chance.

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  9. I think it's clear that most of us typically shy away form these type of books--because it just can be TOO much when you sit down and and are forced to face the fact that horrible, horrible, heartbreaking things like genocide can and do occur in this world. But that being said--reading books like Code Name Verity-- which was NOT an easy endeavor, can turn out to be the most powerful and uplifting experiences in the end.

    What's that line form The Diary of Anne Frank "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." Remember how you felt when you read that and saw that in the film the for the first time? It made reading about all the heartbreak that happened in that young girl's life worth it in the end.

    So, I think it's awesome you took that chance because it's clear that it has struck a chord with you:) And you have made me want to give it a shot as well:)

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    1. The crazy thing about MARGOT is that I was so so nervous to start it. Almost paralyzed with how worried I was about the sadness. But I when I ended reading this book I was smiling. I KNOW that Margot didn't live, but this end made me feel like she got some redemption. I love what you said about these books worrying us, but then they become some of the most rewarding. VERY TRUE. We work ourselves up so much for no reason sometimes. Anyway, I hope that you read and love this book. It has a definite 50s Mad Men vibe along with all the history.

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  10. Rave reviews from you and Asheley? I'm definitely going to read this one. In fact, A texted me in the middle of reading it to tell me that I HAD to add it to my TBR. I loooooove historical fiction and am really intrigued by this sort of alternate history. I love quiet stories, and I'm excited about a story focusing on redemption and hope. I'm really looking forward to reading this one! Great review :)

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    1. You MUST read Margot. It is a beautiful book. One of my favorites of the year for sure. I can't wait to hear what you think!

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  11. Wow, I had no idea this book was about Anne Frank's sister. The Diary of Anne Frank was one of my favorite books of those we were "forced" to read in school. I think it would be fascinating to read from her sister's POV! Thanks for bringing this novel to my attention!

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