I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Monday, July 25, 2016

Margot by Jillian Cantor

This book is a fictional imagining of what if Margot Frank, Anne Frank's sister, had survived the camps and what might have happened to her.  In this book, she stays with Eduard, a friend of her mother's in Germany after the war for several years before deciding to head to America to stay with his cousin, Ilsa and her husband in Philadelphia, the city where she and Peter had promised to meet each other if they got caught in the attic and separated. In Margot's version of events, she and Peter loved each other. After the war, she saw his name on the Red Cross lists of the dead, but her name was on there too, so she doesn't give up right away and calls the operator looking for a Peter Pelt, as that is the name he wanted to go by. They both agreed to leave their Judaism behind and become Americans.  This idea is reinforced when Margie Franklin (the name she has chosen) reads in the paper about a flaming flare nailed to a door with anti-Semitic words, kids beating up Jewish kids, a firebomb thrown into a synagogue, and of course the swastikas. She had thought Philadelphia to be the "City of Brotherly Love", but realizes that it is no different than where she came from. 

Margie hides her tattoo behind sweaters she wears even at the height of summer.  She gets a job that she loves working as a secretary for a Jewish law firm, which makes her feel like she did before the war.  She is taking classes to become a paralegal and is supported by her sweet and handsome boss, Joshua Rosenstein. Joshua is not happy working there for his father, defending murderers and crooks, so when an old woman who survived the camps comes in and wants his help in getting equal pay for her and the other Jews at the factory she works for, he jumps at the chance to do something good and right.  He has Margie there to help with any translation if necessary as the woman is Polish and Margie has let  everyone believe she is Polish, though she knows very little of the language, but telling people she was born in Germany is a rather dangerous thing to do right after the war.  The woman, Bryda Korzynski sees right through Margie and is disgusted with her for hiding her past, but she says nothing to Joshua.  Joshua tells her he needs more people to join her in order to do a class action suit.  He uses Margie's number as a contact number when he prints an anonymous ad in the paper to get names from the other plants. It is all being done in secret as his father is against the suit.

Margie, of course, is freaking out having to deal with some of these people, especially Bryda, who were in the camps just like she was and the memories come back to her.  On top of this, she knows her father is alive because of the book he published of her sister Anne's diary and she realizes that Anne must have found her diary and copied parts of it and put it in her diary.  To her, Anne is an annoying little sister that she loved dearly and ultimately failed to keep alive as she promised her mother she would.  She believes she killed Anne and is living with that burden.  She also knows that if she contacts her father he will sweep her up in the whole fame of being the sister who knows the rest of Anne's story and she does not want to be known. She also wonders why her father did not publish her diary.  And she knows that her dear father, Pim, loved Anne more than her.  So she has not told her father she is alive.  Now there is a movie out and she decides to call the operator to see if Peter is in Philadelphia and she tells her there is a P. Pelt.  When she calls a woman answers and suddenly she wonders if Peter found someone else.  Hope is an amazing thing. When the gods unleashed all the horrors upon the earth when Pandora opened that box, hope was at the bottom of that box for a reason, because without it humans would have a hard time going on.

But Peter isn't the only one she is thinking about. She can't help but care about Joshua, even if, as her co-worker, Shelby says that he will never think of her like that since she is who she is, a secretary and a non-Jewish one at that.  Besides Joshua is expected to marry the truly awful Penny, whom he grew up with and is not only Jewish but of his class.  Joshua, however, keeps giving out mixed signals: a touch of the hand, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear, standing too close. Margie seems to be worried that by having feelings for Joshua that she is somehow betraying Peter. By this time she is taking the bus to the house where P. Pelt lives hoping to catch a peek at him or his life; imagining all sorts of scenarios in her mind.

In the end, will Joshua be able to stand up to his father, the only family he has left? Will Margie ever admit her feelings for him? Is Peter still alive and if he is, how does Margie feel about him now? Will Margie ever reveal who she really is and come out of hiding, finally? There are lots of questions to be answered in this riveting book.

Cantor read The Diary of Anne Frank first when she was thirteen and thought "this could be me". She re-read it again as an adult, and older sister, and began to wonder about Anne's older sister Margot who also kept a diary and who gets little mention in the book. When she began to do some research on Margot, there was very little to be found, so Cantor decided to write this book to give Margot her "voice" as Anne has had hers all these decades.  I do believe she has succeeded. 


 But the smell in hallway is not much better than in the stairwell. The air is stagnant and I fight the urge to vomit as I wrap my sweater tighter around my chest. I reach my hand up to knock on her door. Apartment 3C in the north section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America. It is a long was from Auschwitz, Poland. But as I knock, I understand it is not as far as you might think.

-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 76)
 Over and over again. Bryda, her voice, the smells of her terrible apartment, our shared horror, they are everything about my past that I am running from, all the things I try to avoid in my American life. And now I understand that these terrible things, they are only a bus ride away from the safety of the Jewish law firm, which in so many ways reminds me of the comforts of my childhood, before the war. This is perhaps the most terrifying thought of all.

-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 79)
 Judischausen [Synagogue] had not just been destroyed by the war, but decimated by it: stripped, shaven, beaten down, tattooed.  “I’m done with being a Jew.” I spoke to Eduard softly, but with certainty.  “But…your mother?” he said, and his voice cracked on her name. It was religion that had kept them apart, I was certain of it. And religion that had taken her away.  “My mother is dead,” I said.  Eduard shook his head. “You are who you are. This you cannot change.” “What is religion,” I asked him, “if it cannot protect you? If it kills you?” “You are who you are,” Eduard repeated.

-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 176)
 This synagogue is a flat, square cement building and, I am relieved to see, almost unidentifiable as a Jewish place, except for the small green Star of David etched into the front of the wooden door.  There are no large stained-glass windows, and maybe that is better. Nothing to shatter.
-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 177)
 “What a creeper,” Shelby says. “Shhh,” I whisper to Shelby now. “He might hear you.” She shrugs. “What’s he going to do?” she asks. “Kill me?” It is such an American thing, to talk of death as if they are so far from it’s reach. Perhaps it is their in ability to understand that murder, it is easy for some people. These people, they will kill, and they will kill again, and it will mean nothing.

-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 188)
 Saturday is the Shabbat day, the day of rest. God created the universe in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. The seventh day, it is holy. I am across an ocean, a lifetime, housed within a second skin, no longer a Jew. No longer a believer in God. My candle, my whispered Hebrew prayer, my day of rest, they are a comfort in their steadiness, their ability to stay unchanged. Every single week. It is not religion; it is ritual. Religion is breath, Margot, Mother said.  But what I have come to understand as I watch the lonely flicker of my candle and listen for the faintest echo of Mother’s voice is this: sometimes we breathe because we have to, not because we want to.

-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 225)
 It is possible that no matter who you once were, what your past is, how terrible that past is, that you can somehow transcend it?

-Jillian Cantor (Margot p 305)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Margot-Novel-Jillian-Cantor/dp/1594486433/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469453528&sr=1-1&keywords=Margot

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