The Lost Letter: A Novel

The Lost Letter: A Novel

by Jillian Cantor

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399185670
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/13/2017
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 835,101
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jillian Cantor is the author of award-winning novels including, most recently, the critically acclaimed The Hours Count and Margot. Born and raised outside Philadelphia, Cantor currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Austria, 1938

At first, Kristoff didn’t understand the power of the burin. He didn’t know that the one small simple-looking engraving tool could eventually save them. Or get them killed. All he knew, in the beginning, was that the burin was impossible to use precisely, and that he was not naturally suited for metal, the way he’d always been for canvas.

He didn’t like the way it felt in his hand either. Oddly heavy, hard to maneuver. He felt it should create lines with the agility of a brush, or even charcoal, and yet his hand kept getting stuck, and he became repeatedly frustrated at his inability to achieve the perfect lines and grooves in the metal the way Frederick showed him. He worried that Frederick would fire him as his apprentice, and then he would have to find not only another job, but also another place to live. As Frederick’s apprentice, Kristoff had been receiving room and board with the Faber family in their beautiful home on the out- skirts of Grotsburg, as well as five schilling a week. But most important, the opportunity to learn the trade that Frederick Faber was known for throughout Austria: engraving. His greatest creation was the country’s most popular—and, Kristoff would argue, artistically perfect—postage stamp, the 12 Groschen Edelweiss. The stamp was a stunning replica of the pure white f lower, and Frederick had both designed and engraved it himself in 1932.

Kristoff remembered placing that stamp on a letter he’d written to his mother once, but had never sent. He could not mail a letter to someone who didn’t exist, or whose existence and location he could never determine in spite of his best efforts. But even as a young boy of thirteen, Kristoff had admired the artistry of that stamp, the perfect bows of the petals. He’d always wanted to make a living as an artist. So when he’d heard the rumor last fall from another street artist in Vienna, that Frederick Faber, the Frederick Faber, was searching for a new apprentice, Kristoff had packed up his art supplies and spent most of his small savings to hire a ride to take him the two hundred kilometers out to Grotsburg. And when he’d arrived, he’d convinced Frederick to give him the job after he showed Frederick some of his charcoal sketches of Vienna.

“You have a good eye,” Frederick had said, staring at what Kristoff thought was his most noteworthy sketch: Stephansdom, elaborate in all its detail of the two wide turrets in the front. Frederick had raised a thick gray eyebrow. “But what do you know of metal, my boy?”

“I’m a quick learner,” Kristoff had promised, and that had seemed enough to convince Frederick to take him on. Though, so far, this had turned out not to be true, at least where engraving was concerned.

Though he didn’t master the burin right away, Kristoff did learn two things in his first few weeks working for Frederick. One, Frederick was older than Kristoff had initially thought, and sometimes his hands began to shake when he tried to teach Kristoff how to use the engraving tools. Frederick had told Kristoff he needed an apprentice because there was business enough for two master engravers to work on his stamp assignments for Austria, but now Kristoff suspected the real reason was that Frederick might not be able to continue on with his trade much longer. And Frederick didn’t have any sons.

That was the second thing Kristoff learned. Frederick had two daughters: Elena, who was seventeen, a year younger than Kristoff, and who reminded Kristoff of the edelweiss with her snowy skin, waves of long light brown hair, and bright green eyes. And Miriam, who was thirteen. If Elena was a flower, then Miriam was the buzzing bee who wouldn’t leave the flower alone. Or, as Mrs. Faber called her with an exasperated roll of her green eyes, a flibbertigibbet. But Kristoff still found her amusing, even when her family did not.

Kristoff quickly became accustomed to life in Grotsburg, where the world was green and very quiet, and instead of buildings and throngs of people, he woke up each morning to a view of the forest and rolling hills. But even more, Kristoff reveled in the warmth of the Fabers’ dining room, of the fragrant smell of Mrs. Faber’s stews, of the bread they broke on Friday nights in the glow of their candles. The challah was a savory bread, and Kristoff had never tasted anything like it growing up in the orphanage in Vienna, where the nuns had led him to believe there was only one religion anyway. Not that he was necessarily a believer. Kristoff was much more drawn to the Fabers, the light and wholeness of their family, than he had ever been to God or the institutional church.

“Miriam, sit still,” Mrs. Faber chastised, one night a few weeks after Kristoff had begun his apprenticeship. Almost a month in, Kristoff was still failing miserably at the metalwork. Though earlier that day he had impressed Frederick with his sketch of the hillside, and even hours later, he was still basking in Frederick’s compliment that it was “not half bad.”

“I’m sitting still, Mother,” Miriam said in a singsong voice, bouncing slightly in her chair and casting a sideways smile at Kristoff.

Kristoff hid his own smile in his spoonful of soup. He glanced at Elena, but she refused to look at him. He had yet to determine whether she was shy or rude, whether she acted so standoffish around everyone, or whether it was just around him.

“Elena, dear. Go fetch another log or two for the fire. It’s chilly in here,” Mrs. Faber said. It was the deepest, coldest part of winter, and the Faber’s three-story wooden house was drafty. Kristoff ’s room in the attic had a small woodstove, but he had to huddle under two blankets to stay warm at night. Still, it far surpassed the orphanage, his bed in a row of ten others in a large cold room, and only a thin blanket to cover him. And Mrs. Faber’s cooking was much better than the nuns’.

Elena put her soup spoon down and stood. Kristoff tried to meet her eyes again, but she wouldn’t look up.

“I can help.” Kristoff stood, before he lost his nerve, and Elena turned toward him. At least he’d caught her attention.

Her beautiful face sunk into a frown. “It’s not—” she began.

Mrs. Faber spoke over her: “Thank you, Kristoff. I’m sure Elena would appreciate that.”

He smiled at Mrs. Faber and followed Elena. They went wordlessly through the kitchen, out the back door, toward the woodpile, which rested across the Fabers’ sprawling yard in front of Frederick’s workshop. The earth was frozen, and the ground crunched beneath their feet; the night air was biting and neither Kristoff nor Elena had grabbed a coat. Elena shivered, and her hair fell into her eyes as she reached down to grab the wood. Kristoff resisted the urge to pull it back, and instead reached down and took the log from her hands.

“Really,” she said sharply, pulling it back and holding it toward her chest. “I’m just fine. I’ve been doing this on my own long before you came here. I don’t need your help.”

“But I want to help,” he said. “And it’s no trouble.” Elena glared, and he was suddenly certain that she was not shy—she just didn’t like him. And this realization bothered him. He had the urge to fix it.

But before he could say more, Elena turned and began to walk back toward the house. Kristoff picked up another log from the pile and ran after her. He caught her just before they reached the back door, and he reached for her shoulder. “Have I done something?” he asked her, slightly out of breath from running in the cold. His words came out jagged and smoky against the chilly air.

“Something?” she echoed back.

“To upset you?”

“Why should you think that?” Her breath made frosty rings in the air, and she shivered again.

“Never mind,” he said. “We should get back inside. You’re freezing.”

“Look,” she said. “It’s just that we’re not friends, okay. We’re not going to be friends. I don’t expect you to be here long. They never are.”

“They?” he asked, considering, for the first time, Frederick’s last apprentice, or maybe his last few? Were they all terrible with the burin, like him, and promptly fired?

But Elena didn’t answer. She carried the wood inside and placed it into the fire. Kristoff did the same, and then he excused himself to go to bed. Up in the attic, wrapped in two blankets, he took out his sketch pad and a nib of charcoal. He found himself sketching Elena’s angry green eyes and wondering how long this place would stay his home.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Lost Letter"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Jillian Cantor.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

The Lost Letter Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think it’s so important for Katie to do something with her father’s stamp collection? What does it mean for Katie to get out of the car that first morning when she arrives at Benjamin’s office?

2. Compare and contrast Katie and Elena. How are their lives different due to the times and places they were born? How are they the same?

3. What is the meaning of the edelweiss flower in the book? How could it be seen as a “proof of unusual daring” (as in the epigraph) for each of the characters?

4. When Katie learns about Benjamin’s personal story, she sees him differently. How are Katie and Benjamin similar? How are they different with regard to how they’ve responded to the struggles each has gone through? What does Katie’s father’s stamp collection mean to each of them?

5. How do father-daughter relationships play a role in the book? Compare Frederick’s relationship with Elena to Ted’s relationship with Katie.

6. Discuss the role memory plays in the book. How does Ted’s illness impact the story? How does memory—or lack thereof—guide the different characters’ decisions?

7. What do you think of Elena and Miriam’s relationship? Why does Elena leave Miriam on the train? Is Elena’s behavior brave or stupid?

8. Discuss Gram’s role in the book. How does her past and her life in 1989 impact the story?

9. In what ways is The Lost Letter a love story? Whose love story is it?

10. Why is the trip to Germany in 1990 important? How does it change and impact things for all the different characters?

11. Compare Amy’s life in East Berlin to Elena’s life in Austria. How were the two places and eras the same? How were they different?

12. Why is the novel called The Lost Letter? What does losing—and finding—the letter mean for each character?

13. What role does religion play in the characters’ lives and in the story, in both timelines?

14. How do acts of resistance—both big and small—play a role in the novel?

Customer Reviews

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The Lost Letter: A Novel 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Wonderful story. One of the best books that I've read in a long time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WWII historical set in Austria and fifty years later Couldnt put it down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing!!
teachlz More than 1 year ago
I love everything about "The Lost Letter" by Jillian Cantor. The publisher is Penquin Group, Riverhead and the publishing date is June 13, 2017. The genres of this book are Historical Fiction and Fiction. Kudos to Jillian Cantor for the beautiful storytelling and descriptions of the locations in this novel. The timeline of this story is both World War Two and in the time when the wall came down between East and West Germany, both significant times in history. The locations take place in Austria, Germany, England and the United States. The characters are complex and complicated. In the turbulent time of World War Two, there is betrayal and secrets. Some of the characters during this time period are brave and courageous and hold on to their beliefs of a free Austria. These characters take risks to survive the German occupation In the present timeline in the book, the wall is coming down between East and West Germany. many of the characters are looking for answers and are fighting for freedom. I love the way that the author has both past and present like puzzle pieces, that have to be put together I appreciate the research the author has done on stamps and engraving, and the significance in history. Everything about this book is amazing, and intriguing. I recommend this book tremendously! Happy Reading! I received an ARC of this book for my honest review.
GranbyLibraryBookClub More than 1 year ago
The Lost Letter "The Lost Letter" does the dual historical fiction World War II tale with a twist. While one story takes place in Austria in 1938 the "present day" story is set in Los Angeles in 1989. The two stories focus on the postage stamp and how much weight that little stamp can carry. We had the pleasure of Skyping with the author Jillian Cantor in our book group and we collectively found her to be just as delightful as this riveting tale that focuses on courage, family, and the importance of friendships and connections. Cantor bounced back and forth between the time periods brilliantly to create a well paced and unpredictable love story. Well researched and entertaining, we recommend this read.
Suze-Lavender More than 1 year ago
It's 1938 Kristoff is the apprentice of Frederick, a master stamp engraver in Austria. His employer is Jewish and while living with the family Kristoff learns more about the religion. When Frederick goes missing during the Kristallnacht Kristoff has to continue his work. He does this with the help of Frederick's daughter Elena, who's secretly a skilled engraver as well. Together with Elena Frederick doesn't only make stamps, he also forges papers and helps the Austrian resistance. It's a dangerous job and they can easily get caught. Kristoff and Elena are in love, but times are difficult. Will he be able to keep them both safe? It's 1989 and Katie brings her father's stamp collection to Benjamin, a dealer, to have it appraised. Benjamin is immediately interested and when he discovers an unusual Austrian World War II stamp they start a search together to find out more about its background. Katie's father is in a nursing home and can't give much information about his collection. Katie is going through a difficult time as she's also getting divorced. Will she and Benjamin be able to uncover the truth behind the stamp and will this journey help Katie to heal a little? The Lost Letter is a beautiful story about love, loss and danger. The main characters are all incredibly interesting. I equally loved reading about the past and the present. Kristoff is kindhearted and generous. He would do anything to keep Elena safe, but she's determined and fierce and doesn't listen to anyone. Katie is a wonderful woman who loves her father very much. She and Benjamin are both lovely people and they have a special connection, I loved reading about the bond they formed. I couldn't wait to find out where both stories would lead and Jillian Cantor constantly kept me on the edge of my seat. The Lost Letter is an impressive book about a fantastic subject, stamps. I loved reading about the way they were made and their history. I also really liked the idea of the unusual stamp in the collection Katie brings to Benjamin and enjoyed going on a journey with them to find out more about it. The part about the Second World War brought tears to my eyes, as Jillian Cantor writes about it in a poignant honest way. Her story is gripping from beginning to end and has many fascinating elements. The Lost Letter is an amazing compelling book, I highly recommend this surprising and unique story.
sandrabrazier More than 1 year ago
Katie’s father is suffering from dementia. It is so bad, that some days, he has no short-term memories and can recall only events that happened long ago. He doesn’t seem to need his huge stamp collection, any more, so Katie takes it to a stamp dealer to find out if there is anything in it that is of exceptional value. Thus begins Katie’s adventure, one that leads her overseas to discover the true story of her family’s past. This fascinating historical fiction is written in two settings. One story line takes place primarily in 1989 in Los Angeles. The other takes place in Austria in 1939. As the two stories converge, surprises unfold. This is a book I could not put down, one filled with amazingly real characters who have secrets and surprises, and who experience love and war. This one can’t be missed! I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
alainamauro More than 1 year ago
Such a great story, so engaging--it's always hard when a book is trying to balance two storylines, both past and present, for both to be equally strong and equally compelling, but this one does it so well! I loved everyone in it, and each of the settings, and really can't say enough about The Lost Letter. If you like romance, you should read it. If you like a mystery, you should read it. If you like learning a bit of Eastern European history, you should read it. If World War II books are your thing, you should DEFINITELY read it. If you like reading about strong women, you should read it! I couldn't wait to finish it, and pass it on to my mom. It's that kind of book--to be loved and shared. Enjoy!
jojosmodernlife More than 1 year ago
Kristoff has found a home, finally. Having been abandoned as a young child, finding his way as an adult has proved difficult. He finds refuge as an apprentice in the home of well-known stamp engraver, Frederick Faber. Frederick and his family, a wife and two daughters, are Jewish and living in Austria. However, as winter begins to invade, so do the Nazis, tearing Kristoff's new family apart. In another time and place, (California, 1989 to be precise) another family is tearing at the seams. Kate is struggling at work because her co-worker is her soon to be ex-husband. He filed the papers, she just needs to sign them. She is also juggling that with her father, Ted, a formerly avid stamp collector who has Alzheimer's. She meets Benjamin, a philatelist, to get her father's stamp collection appraised and one stamp in particular sends them on an adventure. Although the plot jumped between the two stories, I thought it was done seamlessly. There were some chapters, however, where I wish it had not jumped because I was too eager to find out what happens next in one setting. It had several twists and turns, as well as several times where my heart ached for the characters. Although romance stories from World War II have been done quite often, this one stands out as unique. It brings elements of stamp engraving as well as collecting that I have yet to read elsewhere. Furthermore, the romance is a subtle build that is often cast aside in the urgency of the war period time frame. The characters are not begging for attention nor are they over dramatic in responses. This is true for the stories in both time periods. I do recommend this book for those who enjoy historical fiction, a bit of adventure, and romance. I read through it quickly as I found it to be gripping at times and heart-wrenching at other times. For those who may be offended: there was kidnapping, guns, and sexually suggestive scenarios. Please note: an electronic copy of this book was generously provided for free from Penguin's First To Read program in exchange for an honest review.
Chris721 More than 1 year ago
What an amazing heartbreaking beautiful book! I loved it! This book has dual story lines, one set in Austria in 1938 during World War 2 and the other in America in 1989. The dual story lines go together seamlessly and each tell a beautiful story. The characters are so very real and I found myself crying in multiple parts of the story. It is a book I will be recommending to all my friends and family. I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the Great Thought's Ninja Review Team. All opinions are my own.