Author Archives: Patricia Grossman

Live from the Lilith Blog

August 9, 2017 by

Q&A with Author of “The Lost Letter”

lost letter coverJillian Cantor’s new novel, The Lost Letter, alternates between two very different protagonists and settings. In 1938 Austria, young Kristoff is apprenticed to a master stamp engraver, while in Los Angeles in 1989 a journalist, Katie Nelson, is in the process of getting a divorce and working out new ways of relating to her father, who has Alzheimer’s and now lives at The Willows. 

As radically different as these characters’ experiences are on the surface, the novel slowly discloses that they are in fact inexorably linked.

Q. Your last novel, The Hours Count, featured Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Did you encounter historical models for your characters as part in your research for The Lost Letter? 

Kristoff and the Fabers are completely fictional, but I did find stories about real engravers in Europe who came to work with the resistance and forge papers, as Kristoff eventually does. I also found different real ways stamps were used in the resistance throughout the war. For example, the British special ops forged stamps by replacing Hitler’s head with Himmler’s, hoping to cause infighting in the regime, but then they put them into circulation and no one noticed! The stamps and resistance efforts in my novel are fiction, but it did all start for me with the idea that real stamps were used in the real resistance.

Q. Stamps of a certain time and place serve beautifully to pull the various threads of The Lost Letter together. Were you certain from the beginning of the novel that you wanted to use stamps—and one particular stamp—as a pivot for your story?

The idea for the novel started with stamps, so I was certain about that much from the beginning. I was chatting with my agent one day about what I was going to write next, and she asked me if I’d ever thought about the people who illustrate postage stamps. (I hadn’t before then!) I began to do a little research about stamp engravers, stamps in WWII, and stamp collecting, and the story blossomed from there. The idea that it would be about one particular stamp came a bit later, as I was writing the first draft and plotting out the novel.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

May 23, 2017 by

Witness to Mass Incarceration

 

barbed-wire-960248_1920At the age of three, Evie Litwok used to watch her father pray. Every day, she would stick her arm out and he would put the leather strap around both their arms. Her parents were Holocaust survivors, and during the war her father had looked up to G-d and said, “If you allow me to live, I will honor you every day.” He kept his promise, davening daily, always with a smile. When Evie grew up, she was not particularly religious, attending temple only on the High Holidays. Yet the day she went to prison, she knew she wanted a siddur. She needed to pray. 

In 1995, Litwok was arrested for tax evasion and mail fraud. It took 12 years for her case to go to trial. She ended up in prison twice (2009–2011 and 2013–2014) as two counts of her charge were vacated and then retried. She had never imagined herself incarcerated, much less—for seven weeks in 2014—in solitary confinement.

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Live from the Lilith Blog

November 25, 2013 by

The Courage and Criticism of a War Correspondent

w481662There is a remarkable visual clarity in Michele Zackheim’s “Last Train to Paris,” set predominantly in Paris and Berlin during the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Perhaps reflecting Zackheim’s background as a visual artist, the novel is as adept at crystallizing small moments as it is at portraying the sweep of action during the darkest time in 20th century Europe. The story is told by Rose (R.B.) Manon, an old woman looking back at her career as a political reporter and war correspondent for The Paris Courier.

“With soaring lyricism, Zackheim limns an exquisitely haunting portrait of an indelibly scarred, yet deeply passionate, woman.” – Booklist

 

Rose’s cousin is kidnapped and then killed in Paris. In real life, the kidnapper was Eugene Weidmann, and the abductee was a distant cousin of yours. Was this a story you were familiar with as a child?

No, I learned about this story by accident when I was an adult.  I was fascinated by Janet Flanner and had checked out her book Paris Was Yesterday, 1925 –1939.  In it was an essay she wrote for The New Yorker that spoke about the murder.

The appearance of Colette and Janet Flanner in this novel is both natural and fun to read. Were their parts fun to write?

I loved making friends with Colette and Janet Flanner.  Their involvement in my distant cousin’s murder makes them more life-like, less mysterious.  When Flanner calls my cousin, “a grabby little American,” I’m upset. How dare she call my cousin, ‘grabby”!  My response brings me a step closer to Flanner as a real human being, rather than an icon.

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