The Lost Letter is an incredibly absorbing story that begins with a daughter who inherits her father’s stamp collection when he begins to lose his memory and goes into a nursing home. The daughter, Katie, has the stamp collection appraised, and an unusual stamp on an unopened letter is found in the collection. An unopened letter! With this discovery, the author, Jillian Cantor, introduces the story of Kristoff, an apprentice of a Jewish stamp engraver, Frederick Faber, and Frederick’s family, all of whom lived in a small town in Austria prior to Germany’s invasion. The Lost Letter continues on this way, alternating between the past and present. I usually have two books going, but I couldn’t read anything else while reading The Lost Letter. It was one of those rare books that kept me awake at night, wondering how it would play out.
I normally struggle with books that alternate between stories and narrators, but I thought Katie’s chapters were nice reprieves from the horrors of Kristoff’s life. Kristoff, who was an orphan, immediately felt at home in the Faber house and soon fell in love with the oldest daughter, Elena. Cantor does an excellent job describing the hominess and comfort felt by Kristoff as he settled into the Faber home, and fought to earn their respect and love while learning the art of stamp engraving. Because I cared so deeply for the characters, I was absolutely devastated by the first atrocity of the invasion.
There was much to keep me awake at night after I’d finally grown too tired to hold the book. What happened to Elena and Kristoff? Did they survive? Were they still together? Though it paled in comparison to Kristoff’s battles, Katie’s struggle to be there for her father even when he didn’t recognize her, was heartbreaking. Because she didn’t want to upset him, Katie couldn’t ask him about the unopened letter with the rare stamp. This was particularly frustrating since he could have provided so much insight into the search for Elena and Kristoff.
Though I had guesses about the whereabouts of Kristoff and Elena and what happened to them, I was surprised by the ending and appreciate how the mystery was resolved. If you’re into historical fiction, especially World War II fiction, I highly recommend The Lost Letter. I’d also recommend this to anyone looking for an utterly engrossing, bittersweet Holocaust mystery. Included in the Author’s Note at the end, Cantor writes about her research and briefly explains the role stamp engravers played in the fight against the Nazis. She also gives a nod to Sophie Scholl, who worked with the resistance.