Children’s book author Cantor (The Life of Glass, 2010, etc.) shrinks her high concept—what if Anne Frank’s sister Margot didn’t die at Auschwitz but moved to Philadelphia under an assumed identity—to fit more predictable parameters of women’s fiction.
In 1959, when the movie version of her sister’s diary hits American theaters, Margot is working as a secretary for a firm of Jewish lawyers in Philadelphia. She is 33 years old pretending to be 27 and has taken the name Margie Franklin. Margot seethes with bitterness and guilt: Anne was always the favored younger sister and now her father has published Anne’s not Margot’s diary; Margot was the one carrying on a romance with Peter while hiding in the Amsterdam annex up until the moment Anne caught them just before their arrests; but she loved Anne too and feels responsible for her death; she finds Americans, especially American Jews, naïvely innocent. She tells the reader she is no longer Jewish but secretly lights a Sabbath candle every Friday night. She and Peter used to fantasize they’d start a new life together in Philadelphia after the war, and she keeps looking for him, hoping that perhaps he survived, too. Otherwise, she tries to disappear into American life. She wears long-sleeve sweaters even on hot summer days to cover the numbers on her arm. She lives alone with a cat but occasionally socializes with another secretary. Even less often, she visits her warmhearted sponsor, who loves Margot like a daughter and suspects her past. Margot finds herself falling in love with her boss, Joshua, whose domineering father, Ezra, is a partner in the firm. Joshua is dating Penny, a stereotypical Jewish American Princess and the daughter of Ezra’s partner, but he is clearly attracted to Margot (although Cantor makes it hard to see why anyone would be attracted to her). Then an angry Holocaust survivor asks Joshua to sue her employer for job discrimination, and he enlists Margot’s help.
Cantor diminishes Margot’s spiritual identity crisis by introducing a predictable office romance plot.