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Books About Letters: "The Lost Letter"

I could not be more excited to be talking about Jillian Cantor's "The Lost Letter" (2017, Riverhead Books) for the November edition of Book About Letters. If you're a historical fiction vacuum like me, then this should go right on your TBR ("to be read" list). Read on for a brief -- spoiler free! -- summary and my thoughts on why this novel is absolutely a book about a letters, and a book letter lovers will enjoy!

In "The Lost Letter" we meet Katie, a Jewish-American journalist living in the L.A. of 1989. Katie's world is changing -- her father, Ted, has dementia and is installed at a care facility called "The Willows". Her soon to be ex-husband Daniel, is also her boss at the newspaper where she works. When Katie takes her father's stamp collection to an appraiser in the hopes a "gem" will pay for his extended medical care a story written for letter lovers unfolds. We're transported to 1930s Austria, where a flower, a family, and a German occupation write the history Katie uncovers in this novel.

Before we go any further I'll ask and answer the question: Is this a book about letters? Yes! Well, it's actually a book about stamps but yes emphatically this a book that letter lovers can be sure to enjoy. There's a danger and we've discussed it before about letters in novels being used purely for exposition -- that's not the case here at all. And why is that? Because while this is so totally a book about letters it is more a book about historians, philatelists, stamp makers, resistance fighters, daughters and fathers, those experiencing dementia, etc.

Cantor's writing is well structured and deliberate. There are some books where there's all telling and no showing. That's not Cantor's case. This novel is concise without being abrupt, well researched without being chewy, and readers are left to piece together the puzzle with Katie as she uncovers the mystery story of the letter with the inverted stamp.

Before reading this I had the fortune to visit the Musee de la Poste in France which has a fantastic display on you guessed it: stamps. It was fascinating to see in detail how a sketch on standard drawing paper was rendered miniature enough to fit on an envelope by hand. Those who made postage stamps prior to automation were truly gifted artists. In "The Lost Letter" a boy by the name of Kristoff comes to study at the elbow of a master stamp designer, changing his life forever. I could not have been more thankful to have found this novel after my visit to the Musee de la Poste and thank Cantor for her brilliant story which just affirms that there are so many secrets and layers to the letter, there's always something to discover!

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