A spellbinding reimagining of the lives of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. In June 19, 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed for conspiring to commit espionage. The day Ethel was first arrested in 1950, she left her two young sons with a neighbour and never came home to them again. A few years earlier, in 1947, Millie Stein moves with her husband Ed and toddler son David into an apartment in New York's Lower East Side. She also befriends Ethel who is also a young mother. Millie and Ethel's lives as friends, wives, mothers and neighbours entwine - even as the FBI closes in.
"Taut, atmospheric and absorbing, this story provides an intimate window into a world most people only know from the headlines."
- Christina Baker Kline , New York Times -bestselling author of Orphan Train
"Fraught with tension and wise with empathy, this is the story of a shameful time in our nation's history, but also of friendship, love, and loyalty."
- Laura Moriarty , New York Times -bestselling author of The Chaperone
"Utterly gripping and almost unbearably moving. A thought-provoking novel about a terrible aspect of America's recent past, with the pace of a thriller."
- Natasha Solomons , New York Times -bestselling author of The House at Tyneford
"A deeply compelling retelling of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's famous betrayal. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, this book will leave you wondering about the intersection of truth and politics, responsibility and love, long after you've finished reading it."
- Anton DiSclafani , New York Times -bestselling author of The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
"Fact and fiction are blended in a gripping tale of guilt, innocence, and heartbreak. I was bowled over by her intimate portrait of women in crisis. Jillian has torn pages straight from the history books and transformed them into a riveting story of intrigue, desire, and hope."
- David R. Gillham , New York Times -bestselling author of City of Women
"Flawlessly mixes fact and fiction, drawing the reader into the world of the Lower East Side in the fifties-and the lives of accused Communist spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. A finely drawn portrait of McCarthy-era America, by turns heartwarming and haunting."
- Susan Elia MacNeal , New York Times -bestselling author of the Maggie Hope novels
"[A] down-to-the-wire thriller." - New York Times Book Review
"Confession: We kind of love historical novels, and Cantor's is quickly climbing to the top of our all-time faves list.... It's as much a story of friendship and trust as it is history and spies. You won't be able to put it down." - Glamour
"This ambiguity and uncertainty feels true to life and results in a story that is filled with plenty of surprises, where the stakes feel impossibly high and stolen moments mean the most. A domestic spin on a spy thriller, The Hours Count is an affecting and effective piece of historical fiction that begins with readers asking 'What if?' and ends with them wondering 'What might have been?'" - BookPage
"A gorgeous, thrilling novel." - Popsugar
"This intriguing novel that intertwines facts about the Rosenbergs into the life of an average American housewife is highly recommended for historical fiction fans." - Library Journal (STARRED review)
"Cantor mixes fact with fiction to create a moving portrait of two of the most vilified figures in modern history." - Cosmopolitan
"[A] daring and carefully measured look at the McCarthy Communist witch hunt, including the generalized fear of communists and Russians at that time, as well the omnipresent threat of an atom bomb wiping Manhattan off the map." - Jewish Post
Praise for Margot
"Inventive... Cantor's 'what-if' story combines historical fiction with mounting suspense and romance, but above all, it is an ode to the adoration and competition between sisters." - O , The Oprah Magazine
"Psychologically subtle, satisfyingly suspenseful, and sensitively written."
-Margaret George, New York Times -bestselling author of Elizabeth I: The Novel
From the Hardcover edition.
June 19, 1953
On the night Ethel is supposed to die, the air is too heavy to breathe. The humidity clings to my skin, my face wet with sweat, or maybe tears. It is hard to tell the difference. To understand one thing from another anymore. It's as if the world were ending the way I always imagined it would. And yet I'm still here. Still driving. Still breathing, somehow, despite the heavy air, despite what I have done. The sky is on the edge of dusk. No mushroom cloud. No bodies turned to dust.
I'm driving Ed's Fleetmaster up Route 9, the road to Ossining, along the sweltering Hudson. There are a lot of cars, all headed the way I am, slowing me down. I push anxiously on the gas, wanting the miles to speed along, wanting to get there before it's too late. I hope the car will make it, that I haven't damaged anything that will cause it to stall now at the worst possible time.
I wish I could've left earlier, but I had to wait until I was able to take Ed's car. I suppose you even might say I've stolen the car, but Ed and I are still married legally. And can a wife really steal a car from her own legal husband?
So much has already been stolen from me, from all of us. From Ethel. And that's why I'm driving now.
My stomach turns at the thought of what might happen to me when I tell the truth at last. And I glance in the rearview mirror at the backseat. For so long, I have taken David with me everywhere, and it takes me a moment to remember he's not here. It's just me in the car and David's gone.
But Jake will be there, at Sing Sing, I remind myself. He has to be. And if I can just see him one last time, one more moment, then it will make everything else I am about to do, everything I have lost and am losing by doing this, all worth it.
I think now about the curve of Jake's neck, the way it smelled of pipe smoke and pine trees, just the way the cabin on Esopus Creek smelled. I inhale, wanting him to be here, to be real and in front of me again. But instead my lungs fill with that thick air, the dank smell of the Hudson, a humid summer afternoon turned almost evening. A few fireflies begin to gather just outside my window, their bodies glowing, a little early. It's not quite dark. Not yet the Sabbath. I'm almost there, so close, and I will the darkness to hold off. Just a little longer.
Up ahead, there are dozens of red taillights and I realize that traffic has come to a standstill. I stop and put my head out the window. Farther up the road, it looks like there are barricades set up. Police with flashlights, though I'm hoping FBI, too. I switch on the radio and listen anxiously, wanting so badly for there to be good news. A last-minute stay. A decision to halt things until after the Sabbath has passed. More time.
I switch the stations, anxious for something. Anything. But all I get is music: Ella Fitzgerald singing "Guilty." It feels like a cruel joke, and I switch again. At last I find news, but it's not good. President Eisenhower has denied a stay of execution, saying Ethel and Julie have condemned tens of millions of people to death all around the world. No. Ethel and Julie are still set to die at eight p.m. An hour from now.
I switch the radio off, pull the car to the side of the road, and kill the engine. I take a cigarette from my purse and light it with shaking hands. I inhale the smoke and for a moment consider not getting out of the car but just waiting here in the line of traffic. But I know I can't.
I push open my door and step out into the steamy air. I stomp out the cigarette with my worn heel. I stare at the back window and picture David there on the other side, staring back at me, his round brown eyes like the pennies he so loved to stack. "Come on now," I would tell him if he were here. "We have to hurry if we're going to find Dr. Jake."
His mouth would twitch slightly at the mention of Jake's name, and I'd wonder if maybe it might even be a