Friday, December 4, 2015

Jillian Cantor: The Hours Count




SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Today I'm delighted  to introduce Jillian Cantor, author of THE HOURS COUNT, a telling of the story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, through the eyes of their (fictional) Lower East Side neighbor. I was lucky enough to read the book in galleys and fell in love. It's in many ways a quiet novel, but so powerful. Brava, Jillian! 

(And isn't the cover amazing? Not that I judge a book by it, of course, but I think the netting of the gloves echoes the fencing in the Rosenberg pictures perfectly....)

And — here's Jillian!




JILLIAN CANTOR: On June 19, 1953 Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, an American Jewish couple, were executed for conspiring to commit espionage. On the day they died, they wrote a letter to their two young sons, imploring their boys to always remember that they were innocent. 

I first came across that letter in an anthology of women’s letters, just after I’d finished writing my last novel, Margot. And it led me to start researching the Rosenbergs’ case. I wanted to know – were they innocent? I learned that even though she was executed, there was never any real evidence against Ethel Rosenberg. Only testimony from her brother who said she’d typed up notes.



And years later, in the 90s, her brother admitted this was a lie, that he’d perjured himself to save his own wife. In fact, everything I read about Ethel’s life led me to picture her as a devoted mother, who wanted to put caring for her family above everything else. As a mother to two young boys myself, I could not comprehend the horror of what had happened to Ethel and her children in the early 1950s. And that’s where I first got the inspiration for my new novel, The Hours Count.

In read that in real life, on the day Ethel was first arrested, she left her sons in the care of a neighbor. I invented a fictional neighbor, Millie Stein, and in my novel, I reimagined the years leading up to Ethel’s arrest and execution from Millie’s point of view. Millie is a young Jewish wife, struggling with her own troubled son and marriage, and she forges a connection with her neighbor Ethel over their joys and problems of motherhood.



Though the novel is set against the backdrop of the true historical events surrounding the Rosenbergs’ case, it blends fact and fiction. Ultimately, I wanted to tell a story about female friendship and motherhood in the 1940s and 1950s. And I wanted to picture Ethel the way I really imagined her to be – not as a dangerous spy who deserved to be executed, but as the loving mother of two young boys whom she was forced to leave orphaned in 1953.




SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Jillian, thank you so much for coming by Jungle Reds. I know I have a lot of questions to ask you about your research, female friendship, motherhood, THE HOURS COUNT and the Rosenbergs. Reds and lovely readers, please join us with questions and comments!



Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the author of award-winning novels for teens and adults including the critically acclaimed MARGOT, which was a Library Reads pick for September 2013 and also featured in O the Oprah Magazine, People, Ladies Home Journal, and Time.com. Her most recent book for teens, SEARCHING FOR SKY, was nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Medal in the UK. Jillian’s next historical novel for adults, THE HOURS COUNT, will be out 10/20/15 from Riverhead/Penguin. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

16 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

This sounds like one of those books that just tears at your heart . . . I'm looking forward to reading it.

Kathy Reel said...

Oh, this one is going to be a must read for me! I've always been fascinated with this case and the witch hunting of the 50's, the decade into which I was born. Thanks, Jillian, for stopping by the Reds and telling us about The Hours Count. I'll be checking out your other writing, too.

Gram said...

I remember that case. I remember the gruesome minute by minute details of the executions published in the newspapers. Horrid.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

I love how Jillian introduces us to the character of the neighbor. It's rare to see so much time in novels given over to women's friendship, and this book certainly does that, to great effect. Really terrific book.

Hallie Ephron said...

Wow. What a great idea and wasn't Ethel Rosenberg fascinating and tragic? Women's friendships is a topic near and dear to my heart.Sounds like you did a lot of research to make the fiction ring true. I'd love to hear about it.

And also thanking Susan for yesterday's insider's look at THE WIZ. I watched it last night and loved it, and got such a kick out of knowing who was inside that big head.

Susan D said...

Oh golly, I'm both drawn to this book, and nervous about reading it. It might prove too chilling for me. But definitely sounds fascinating.

Julia said...

My thanks also to Susan and Noel for the backstage look at The Wiz! It made viewing it even more exciting. Hope your party went well, Susan!

Jillian, I've always thought the Rosenbergs were so fascinating because of the ambiguity of Ethel's position. Their story really serves as a lens through which one can view so much about American life in the post-war period: Red panic, the dawn of the nuclear age, anti-Semitism, changing views of women and marriage.

Sounds like THE HOURS COUNT is not only a great story, but the perfect reading group book as well!

Libby Dodd said...

Yet another story of misguided "justice".

Kathy Reel said...

Susan, I posted on yesterday's Wiz piece, but I want to add here, too, that the Wiz head was amazing. Noel is a great artist, and I love that smile he always wears! Kudos, Noel!

Pat D said...

It is funny how so many people view the 50's as an ideal time: families together, a booming economy, no world wars. There was a lot of tension behind it all though, not the least of which was the red scare. I'm sure you boomers remember the bomb drills we did at school, surprisingly similar to tornado drills! I was too young to want to watch the news so McCarthyism went over my head. Looking back I wonder how many innocent people watched their lives ruined by these witch hunts. Thank God that ended but the red scare extended well into the 60s thanks to our relations with the USSR. Nope. I don't miss those times.

Denise Ann said...

I am obsessed by this horrific story and loon forward to reading this book. I also want to remind everyone of E.L. Doctorow's "Book of Daniel" which covers the story from another point of view.

In my political opinion, revisiting periods like the "Red Scare" and the internment of Jews helps to shed light on some of our current problems. There seems to be a need to "name" the enemy.

Thank you.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Thanks, everybody about The Wiz. Noel was over the moon with how it went. The cast really bonded. And our party was great, even with more than 10 kids under 10!

Deborah Crombie said...

Denise Ann, I so agree. Sometimes I think we aren't capable of learning from history...

Jillian, wow, the book sounds heart-wrenching and gripping. And I love reading about women's friendships, and about history. This is a period I don't know that well, even though I was born into it. (Or maybe because I WAS born into it.) I'm very much looking forward to your book!

And Susan, please tell Noel how much I enjoyed The Wiz last night!! And it was such fun to know who was inside the HEAD!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

AH, Jillian, this sounds.. amazing. I grew up being told that the Rosenbergs were innocent. SO heartbreaking how history reveals itself.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

ANd Susan! WOW. You must be over the rainbow. It was terrific, and I have to say, pretty cool knowing what was going on inside there .And the reviews are amazing! Yay. Hurray for Noel (and his supporting cast :-) )

Jillian Cantor said...

Thanks so much for all these nice comments! It was such a pleasure to be on the blog today and I so enjoyed reading all of your thoughtful responses!!!