Published by Penguin on 9/3/2013
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The Diary of Anne Frank has been beloved since its publication in 1947, with several film versions made and shifted perspectives written. But Jillian Cantor’s Margot is both a retelling and an alternate history of the original story recorded in Anne Frank’s diary. Cantor imagines a scenario where Margot Frank does not perish in Bergen-Belsen, but survives the Holocaust and begins a new life as Margie Franklin, working as a law secretary in Philadelphia. Though she tries desperately to hide her true identity, the popularity of her sister’s recently published diary and the possibility of a new relationship force her to face the realities of her past.
Though it was never recovered, Margot Frank also kept a diary in the secret annex. After learning this, Jillian Cantor began to wonder what might have been written and how it would have been different from Anne’s perspective. In Margot, Margie Franklin has come to Philadelphia and assumed a new identity, following the postwar plan she and Peter van Pels laid out while in hiding. Much of the novel surrounds Margie’s hope that Peter is still alive, so the pair can rekindle their romance, and the guilt she feels over the loss of Anne. In both her new American life and short flashback scenes, Cantor is able to bring Margot’s story to the forefront while keeping the information available historically accurate. However, while there is a very clear section delineating fact from fiction already in place at the end of the book, I would have liked to see a quick note at the start of the novel as well.
Writing a retelling or re-imagining of history is always a delicate job, but taking on the iconic story of Anne Frank requires extra care. Jillian Cantor seems to have felt the weight of the past while writing Margot; not only to stay true to Anne’s diary, but also to honor the memory of her title character. In careful prose, Cantor has composed a story that examines the possibilities of what could have been while still respecting the lives that were.