We’ve been mightily impressed with Jillian Cantor since the publication of her first novel, THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS . And we’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of MARGOT–a novel that poses a singular, brilliant question: what if Margot Frank, sister of Anne Frank, had survived the holocaust? We were not disappointed with the way that Jillian answered that question, and we leaped at the chance to profile her here on She Reads. We have three copies of MARGOT up for grabs today, thanks to the wonderful people at Riverhead Books. Leave a comment on this post and you’ll be entered to win.
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Update: we’re thrilled to announce that the winners of this giveaway are Jennifer, Mary Kubica, and Gwyn. Thanks to all who entered! And don’t forget to check back soon. We have lots of great giveaways lined up for the rest of this year.
I have always been a cat person. Growing up, we lived near the woods, and stray cats would come around begging for food, or shelter from the rain. My parents relented and let us adopt two cats this way over the years, and then another two (one from a shelter, one from a farm) for a total of four. So when my husband and I rented our first apartment together in college, one of the first things we did was adopt a cat. He was a shelter kitten, a grey tabby, scrawny and sad looking with an eye infection – I was in love, and having him in our apartment made it feel like a home. He would transform from the scrawny shelter cat into a very overweight (and happy) cat. He would go on to move with us, first across the country, and then from an apartment to a house and then to another house. He would be with us while we adopted a few other cats (one whom he tragically hated). He would live with us while we had two kids, and he would tolerate both of them growing into toddler-hood while pulling his tail. He was always there, sitting on the couch with us, following us upstairs at night, guarding the children in their cribs.
When I first began working on my novel, MARGOT, this cat was old and sick. The vet couldn’t find anything wrong with him but suspected cancer, and there was eventually nothing we could do.
I was in the midst of researching my novel when we had to put him to sleep, and I learned that when the Frank family went into hiding Anne and Margot had to leave their beloved cat, Moortje, behind. It sounded like a small thing, in light of everything else they had to leave behind and would lose, but as a cat person myself, I knew it wasn’t. I thought about what that must have been like to be forced to leave their cat, and then I knew that in my fictional story — when Margot has come to Philadelphia after the war and changed her name to Margie — that I needed to give her a cat. And this was how the fictional overweight orange tabby, Katze, was born. I had never had an orange tabby myself, but I read that they were the friendliest cats, so this was the breed I picked for Margie to have. Katze is only a very small part of my novel, but still, I couldn’t imagine Margie in Philadelphia without him.
Months went by. I finished the book, revised it many, many times. (Katze stayed in tact in each revision.) And then the book sold to Riverhead. A few weeks later, I saw a friend’s post on Facebook, a picture of a shelter cat, with a note that said he’d been adopted from the shelter, but then returned for being “too friendly.” I showed it to my husband, and said, this cat would be perfect for us. We were not looking to adopt another cat (We still had three.), and my husband rolled his eyes. Still, we went to meet him the next day, and when he gently put his paw through the cage to high-five my very non-gentle son, we knew we were not leaving that shelter without him.
It wasn’t until I got him home that it hit me, he was an orange tabby, just like the one I’d created in the book.
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Interview with Jillian Cantor:
Marybeth: What prompted your interest in Margot as a character for a novel?
Jillian: I grew up the older sister in a Jewish family of two girls, much like Margot Frank. When I reread Anne’s diary as an adult what struck me about it was Margot and how I’d all but forgotten her from my teenage reading of the diary. I tried to look up and read about her, and I realized not much had been written about her (other than the little that exists in her sister’s diary). But Margot also kept a diary in the annex; she was also hiding. I wondered about sisters and their complicated relationships – my own sister, Margot and Anne. How would Margot have felt if she could’ve seen how famous her sister became? And also, I felt Margot deserved a voice too; she deserved to be remembered, too.
Ariel: I remember reading THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK in the seventh grade. Her story and her voice have stayed with me ever since. When were you first introduced to Anne Frank and thereby her sister?
Jillian: I was thirteen when I first read The Diary of a Young Girl. I saw so much of myself in Anne. I was around the age she was when she wrote the diary and like her, I was a budding writer, a dreamer, Jewish. And it occurred to me if I’d been born fifty years earlier and in Europe, I could’ve been her. When I picked up the diary again years later, I noticed Margot, but, as I mentioned above, I actually had very little memory of her from my earlier reading. It was only as I reread the book for the second time (when I was in my 30s) that I realized that if I’d lived in that place and time, I probably wouldn’t have been like Anne at all. I would’ve been more like Margot, the quieter, older sister.
Marybeth: Your new book differs from your last book in that it’s historical instead of contemporary. What made you decide to make that transition?
Jillian: I don’t know that it was a conscious choice. This was the story I wanted to tell, and I knew for it to work the way I wanted it to, it would have to be historical. But I do think thematically it is similar to my earlier books in the way it explores the sister relationship. My relationship with my younger sister has always been one of the most important and complicated in my life, so that is always interesting for me to take on in fiction.
Ariel: It is no easy task to take a real person or a real event and create a story around them. What was your process like for MARGOT?
Jillian: Well, Margie Franklin, my main character in this story, really is a fictional character, and so I always thought of her that way in my mind. The real Margot Frank died in Bergen-Belsen, so Margie was my fictional rendering of what — or who — could have been. I did try to stay true to the personality traits and small details I read about the real Margot in Anne’s diary, but I also thought about the fact that my version of Margot/Margie was existing in1959 – she would be a woman, affected by the war and its aftermath, a different person than anything we could have read about her.
For the flashback scenes in the annex I found myself reading and re-reading all the many versions of Anne’s diary countless times. After a while fact and fiction began to blend in my head, but I wanted to keep these scenes to have some historical accuracy to them.
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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.