Cantor, Jillian. “The Lost Letter: A Novel, Riverhead Books, 2017.
Love and Survival
Jillian Cantor’s “The Lost Letter” is “a historical novel of love and survival inspired by real resistance workers during World War II Austria, and the mysterious love letter that connects generations of Jewish families”. The story opens in 1938 in Austria where Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his teacher’s daughter as well as with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. He falls in love with for Elena, knowing that must find a way to save her, and himself.
The story shifts to Lost Angeles in 1989 where Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while she is cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across her father’s stamp collection. Her father recently went into a nursing home and Benjamin, an appraiser discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad’s collection. Together Katie and Benjamin embark on a journey together in which they find a story of passion and tragedy that spans years and locations.
We immediately see the importance of memories as we read about love, lost and found.The story alternates between the Nazi occupation of Austria and the fall of the Berlin wall, fifty years later. This is a love story and a mystery that has the reader turning pages as quickly as possible. Kristoff is welcomed into the Faber’s Jewish family where he falls in love with Elena.
Katie Nelson has had to put her father, Ted, into a nursing home because his memory is quickly leaving him and if that is not enough to deal with, her husband has recently left her. Ted asked Katie to find certain stamp in his stamp collection. It is that stamp that propels the novel forward and leads her to Benjamin and Kristoff and his love affair with Elena. This was before the modern age of technology so we see that Kate and Benjamin’s journey is hands-on.
The characters are well drawn and well developed as they deal with the tremendous sacrifices of Kristoff and Elena. The themes of love and reconciliation follow the story thorough to the fall of the Berlin wall. Here is a story of renewal after great adversity as Beth finds what was lost and probably never meant to be found.