|Jillian Cantor, photo by Galen Evans|
Jillian Cantor is the author of the new historical novel In Another Time, which focuses on Germany in the 1930s and '40s. Her other books include The Lost Letter and The Hours Count. She lives in Arizona.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for In Another Time, and for your characters Hanna and Max?
A: I wanted to write a novel that took place during the period of time in Germany as Hitler was rising to power. I was curious what day to day life was like and what it would feel like as the country began to change, little by little.
I went to speak to a Holocaust survivor’s group, and one woman explained to me that she was a young Jewish girl living in Germany at the time, but that her parents refused to leave, even when things started to get bad. They said it was their country too. They were Germans too. Why should they have to leave it?
So I was interested in exploring what it means to love your country, and what would drive people to leave, or not, even once it got dangerous.
As for Max and Hanna specifically, I also wanted to write a story about the redemptive power of books and music even in our darkest times. So I made Max the owner of a bookshop and Hanna a very talented violinist.
Q: The book switches back and forth between Hanna's and Max's perspectives, with one chapter from the perspective of another character. How did you decide on the book's structure?
Q: Yes, the book switches between Max’s perspective in the 1930s in Germany and Hanna’s in the late 1940s and 50s.
Max’s story begins when he meets Hanna in the early 1930s and they start to fall in love and goes through the next five years of their life and relationship. Hanna’s story begins in 1946 when she wakes up in a field with no memory of the previous 10 years, and she moves forward after the war and tries to rebuild her life and her violin career and also tries to figure out what happened to Max.
I’ve always wanted to write a love story where I got to write both points of view, and in this case, I knew Max had a secret that Hanna didn’t know. I was interested in exploring the ways their stories would diverge and converge as a result, and how Hanna’s past and Max’s present would be both the same and different from their own viewpoints.
Plus, this structure allowed me to create and maintain a mystery throughout the book – where was Hanna between 1936-1946? Near the end, both stories converge and you do find out!
Q: Why did you choose to focus on a violinist in the novel?
A: I always knew Hanna would be a musician, and I wanted to ultimately show where that passion would take her before, during, and after the war. A violin made the most sense to me because it was portable, and thus easier to wind into my plot, than say a cello or a piano.
I also read stories of real violinists whose talents helped them survive during the war, and they inspired my fictional Hanna.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: First and foremost, I always hope that readers enjoy the story and get lost in the lives of my characters. But in terms of the historical aspect, I hope people will learn a little more about what was going on in Germany in the years before the war. How things did not turn horrific overnight but little by little, day by day.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on two novels right now: another historical adult novel, and also a contemporary novel for young adults. Both will be out in 2020 or 2021!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If people are interested in further reading/non-fiction about Berlin in the 1930s, I highly recommend In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Thanks for this great interview!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jillian Cantor.