• Review
By – May 13, 2013

Every­thing I have revealed to you here, I am telling you in con­fi­dence. I do not want the entire world to know me, or to think they know me. My sis­ter, she can be the face of all the suf­fer­ing, the one remind­ing every­one, still now, that it can­not, must not, hap­pen again. That we were real peo­ple. This is impor­tant, and I am glad her lega­cy lives on this way, whether her diary was sto­ries, fan­tasies, real­i­ty. I do not know. Per­haps it does not even mat­ter. But me — I do not want a book, or a movie, or even a play. I have a life, and what I want now most is to final­ly live it.

Jil­lian Cantor’s Mar­got gives voice to Mar­got Frank, old­er sis­ter to Anne, in a post-Holo­caust fan­ta­sy imag­in­ing Margot’s sur­vival and con­fronta­tion with her sister’s lega­cy as the diary was pub­lished and adapt­ed into the­atri­cal and film pro­duc­tion in 1950s Amer­i­ca. Liv­ing under a new name and fab­ri­cat­ed iden­ti­ty, the title char­ac­ter unwill­ing­ly emerges from the back­ground of The Diary of Anne Frank and forces her audi­ence to reassess its long-held assump­tions about the Frank fam­i­ly dynam­ics and expe­ri­ence in hiding.

Cantor’s back­ground lies pri­mar­i­ly in Teen Fic­tion, and Mar­got, though told from the per­spec­tive of a thir­ty-three-year-old woman hid­ing in plain view, reads like a YA nov­el. The style of writ­ing plays toward the story’s cen­tral mes­sage: Margie,” the Gen­tile per­sona that Mar­got Frank has fash­ioned for her­self in Philadel­phia, is unable to escape not just her true iden­ti­ty but the ado­les­cence eter­nal­ized for her by her mem­o­ries of the Holo­caust. As she faces the print, the­ater, and film pro­duc­tions of her sister’s famous diary, Margie grap­ples with teenage feel­ings of jeal­ousy, rival­ry, and romance as though she is back in the secret annex, pro­ject­ing her com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships with the ghosts of its occu­pants onto her new, assumed life as a sec­re­tary in a legal firm.

Mar­got is some­thing of a new Con­fes­sions of an Ugly Step­sis­ter with an over­ly­ing Holo­caust nar­ra­tive — an excel­lent nov­el for the much-neglect­ed demo­graph­ic of young read­ers tran­si­tion­ing from teen lit­er­a­ture to more mature books. The plot lacks sub­tle­ty, but mag­net­ic char­ac­ters and the book’s explo­ration of the com­plex­i­ties of iden­ti­ty and mem­o­ry make Mar­got a com­pelling read. Can­tor, care­ful to acknowl­edge the his­tor­i­cal inac­cu­ra­cies with which Mar­got is laden (and, of course, upon which the premise is based), is per­haps a bit too cau­tious, stray­ing lit­tle from the famil­iar world of the secret annex and hard­ly touch­ing upon the Franks’ undoc­u­ment­ed expe­ri­ence in West­er­bork or Auschwitz. Like Margie, she orbits soft­ly around The Diary of a Young Girl, ced­ing the sto­ry­telling of the Holo­caust to the one and only Anne Frank.

Read Jil­lian Can­tor’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

On Reli­gion and Hav­ing Chil­dren

Nat Bern­stein is the for­mer Man­ag­er of Dig­i­tal Con­tent & Media, JBC Net­work Coor­di­na­tor, and Con­tribut­ing Edi­tor at the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and a grad­u­ate of Hamp­shire College.

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