MARGOT, a recent Riverhead book by Jillian Cantor, is a historical re-imagining of the life of Margot Frank, the older sister to the world-famous diarist, Anne Frank. Although the sisters died of typhus in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust, in Cantor’s MARGOT, the elder Frank sister escapes the Nazis and begins a new life in America. No one knows her past and she plans to keep it that way — until the movie version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” debuts in theatres and Margot must confront what she thought she left behind.
“Writers of historical fiction worry about getting the facts right, especially when they are writing about real life figures,” Brandi said to me during a conversation we had about this book. “What struck me about Jillian Cantor’s book is how she was able to use historical fiction ” to carve out a world that I wish could have been reality.”
As writers, what’s the takeaway from a book like MARGOT, besides, of course, a compelling read from a young breakout author? For us at Book Country, it serves as an inspiring example of the power of historical fiction: “You can’t change the past,” Brandi says. “But as a writer, you can.” Margot’s fictional experiences as an immigrant to the US also underscore the value of writing a well-known history from a creative angle, which allows a writer to accomplish much more than a straight retelling–it’s also “a retort” to what we think we already know.
In the following essay, Cantor explains why she felt pulled to write about Margot, and the greater themes she was able to write about using Margot as her main character.