I can’t say that I’ve ever given a lot of thought to postage stamps. Over the years, I’ve collected a few commemoratives adorned with my favorite movie icons and writers, and every holiday season, I load up on adorable Christmas designs (ideally with Snoopy on them) for my mass mailing of yuletide greetings. In general, though, most birthday cards, bills, and magazine renewals that I mail out get a generic forever stamp with a picture of Old Glory and zero second thoughts. After reading Jillian Cantor’s gorgeous new novel, The Lost Letter, I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking at stamps in a whole new light.
The Lost Letter brings to life two narratives set in distinctly different eras, tied together by one unopened love letter and the Austrian stamp affixed to it. In 1938, we meet Kristoff, the young apprentice to master stamp engraver Frederick Faber, a Jewish business owner living with his family in Austria. Still learning his craft and living off of smiles from Frederick’s daughter Elena, Kristoff finds himself on his own when Frederick goes missing during Kristallnacht. Forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, Kristoff begins working with Elena and the Austrian resistance, creating forged papers and sending hidden messages through his stamps, doing all he can to fight the Nazis while still trying to protect the girl he loves. In Los Angeles, 1989, Katie Nelson is struggling in her own way. She’s going through a divorce, and her father’s Alzheimer’s is progressing. Unsure of what to do with her father’s extensive stamp collection, she brings it to an appraiser, Benjamin, who discovers what may be a gem: a sealed letter with a never-before-seen World War II-era stamp. Intrigued by what the tiny Edelweiss hidden in the stamp could mean, Katie and Benjamin set off in search of answers, unraveling thread after thread of a decades-old story tied up in passion, bravery, and survival.
One of the reasons I love historical fiction is because there is always something new to uncover about the past. World War II is my favorite time period to read about and my shelves are filled with novels set in this era, but this is the first I’ve learned about stamps and engravers playing a role in resistance efforts. Jillian Cantor brings this nugget of history to light in a way that is compelling, beautiful, and wrapped in gorgeous storytelling. Against the backdrop of both Kristallnacht and the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Lost Letter is a reminder that the true gems in history are the people living through it. The characters here are a lot that I won’t soon forget, and are a stunning revelation that our ties to the past may be stronger than we realize. This is a remarkable novel about extraordinary lives. I can’t recommend it enough.
The Lost Letter has something for everyone: sweeping romance, wartime resilience, and the complex layers of hidden history. I have no doubt that you’ll lose yourself in this heart-stopping tale, just as I did.