The Hours Count a novel

by Jillian Cantor

Book, 2015



Call number




New York : Riverhead Books, 2015


A tale based on the story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the only Americans put to death for espionage during the Cold War, traces the experiences of their friend and neighbor, who takes in the couple's young sons when they are arrested by the FBI in 1950.

User reviews

LibraryThing member LisCarey
Millie Stein is a young mother living with her husband Ed and two-year-old son David in Knickerbocker Village in New York in 1947. They're on the eleventh floor, and their down-the-hall neighbors are Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Millie and Ethel become friends. When Ed, a Russian immigrant, loses
Show More
his job over the loyalty oath now being pushed, Julius hires him at his own company, Pitt Machine.

Ed is a cold and inattentive husband, and Millie envies Ethel her warm and loving relationship with Julius--but he and Ed are moving in the same communist circles.

This is a fictional account of the Rosenberg spy case, seen through the eyes of a neighbor struggling with her own marriage, her own child (who is apparently autistic, though that's not a word much in use in 1947), and her own issues. She and Ethel become friends, close in many ways, and mutually supportive even when there are secrets and strains, as well.

Millie has spent her life to this point being the younger, less-attractive sister, the one who got matched up with the son of a friend of her parents, the wife who produced a "defective" son. She's a bit naive, and wants to think the best of everyone. That gets increasingly challenging, as it becomes clear that Ed is lying about some important things. There's also the rising anti-Russian feeling, and the growing fear of communists and of the atomic bomb. Through the late forties and early fifties, as she endures a pregnancy, a miscarriage, and another pregnancy, and the growing awareness of secrets around her, she also experiences people she knows being arrested and charged with terrifying crimes, as Ed disappears and reappears, and the arrival in her life of Dr. Jake Gold, a psychotherapist whom she meets at a party Ethel and Julius throw--though Ethel says they barely know him.

As events march along, the reader knows what's ultimately coming, but Millie is slow to realize. Even how information gets around is different; the internet is decades in the future. It's a big moment when Ed brings home a television even bigger than the one her sister Sudan has; this is exciting new technology, and both silly game shows and news reports tame by modern standards but scarily immediate in the 1950s have a big impact.

This story is all about character, and a view of the Rosenbergs from a different and rather sympathetic angle. Whether the Rosenbergs were really guilty, and whether they were both guilty, was a subject of lively debate for many years, and Cantor has come to he view that Ethel, at least, was innocent. I don't think whether you agree or disagree is important to enjoying and appreciating the novel. Millie is a good character to know, naive and imperfect, but always trying to do the right thing by her children and by others around her.


I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via Penguin's First to Read program.
Show Less
LibraryThing member karieh
In the Author’s note of “The Hours Count”, Jillian Cantor reflects, “I remember learning briefly about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg in a high school American History class. Years later, I had only the vague recollection that they were a married couple executed in the fifties for
Show More

That perfectly summarizes the extent of my knowledge of this part of our country’s history, which was one of the reasons I chose to read this book. It, however, has nothing to do with why I liked this book so much.

Because the greatest amount of detail I can now add to the facts I know about the Rosenberg case also came from the Author’s Note: “As it turns out, they were the only civilians ever executed in the U.S. for conspiring to commit espionage.”

But the story told in this novel is still a hauntingly tragic one – just one only tangentially about this now infamous couple. The main character is Millie – a woman whose incredibly isolated life intersects and is forever changed by her acquaintance (and later friendship) with Ethel Rosenberg. Millie has a young son, David, who does not speak – and a husband, Ed, who barely speaks to her and certainly does not listen.

Millie has been told that David’s condition is her fault – that she is “too cold”. That is wildly untrue. Millie is a very caring, loving person – desperate to find answers about her son, her husband, and her life – and the world she lives in – a world full of terrifying threats. She lives in post-World War II New York – with Red scares, smallpox scares, and the ever looming threat of more war and further nuclear bombs.

For so long, Millie accepts her life as is. She does not question her doctor’s diagnosis of David, she does not ask questions of Ed and she rarely ventures out of her small neighborhood.

But then things start to change. She meets Ethel one day and they bond over their sons. She starts paying more attention to her husband’s late night calls…and she meets Jake at a party the Rosenbergs throw. Jake seems very willing to help with David and to talk to her – a need that almost overwhelms Millie.

This book is about isolation, desperation, fear – and a time in our country’s history when all of those elements and more put us on the path that led to a dark time for those who were willing to question what the government was telling them. It’s also about fierce and unquestioning love – which is the reason I liked it so much. “The Hours Count” was a poignant, insightful and tragically lovely book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Beamis12
I first heard about the Rosenberg in a history class long ago. The only two supposed Russian collaborators put to death by electric chair. At that time I was to young to have an opinion nor to question the accuracy of a textbook.

Using an imagined neighbor woman, Mille whose husband was also Russian
Show More
the author takes is back to a time when our fear of the Russians, Communists and atomic bombs was at an all time high. When McCarthyism, a modern day witch hunt seemed to call out new, prominent names daily. A great job was done with the atmosphere in this novel. Felt like I was right back there.

The Rosenbergs did actually live in the apartment building portrayed in this novel, and the author imagines a fictional relationship between the two woman, both stay at home moms, which most did back then. Millie has a son, would be called autistic now, whom is a little younger than Ethel eldest son.. Both would go on to have another son, cementing their friendship as they helped each other, often providing company for the other. Ed, Millies husband is not a very nice man, and she envies Ethel the caring Julius. Soon the FBI enter the picture, but who Is FBI and who is really KGB? A love story will play in the backdrop and from Millie's life and voice we learn more about the Rosenbergs.

Found this book quite fascinating especially since so many of the known facts are accurately portrayed. Millie seems a little naïve at the beginning, seemingly knowing little about current events or the publics fears. I think some of this was because she had no television, was somewhat secluded and alone, could not even play the radio as her autistic did not like the noise it produced. A good book that kept me turning the pages, pacing was wonderful. The author note at the end explained things clearly and for that I was grateful.
Show Less
LibraryThing member melaniehope
This is a historical novel about a neighbor named Millie who befriends Ethel Rosenberg, the wife of Julius Rosenberg. Both Ethel and Julius became the only Americans put to death for spying during the Cold War in the 1950s.

I knew little of the Rosenberg story, only that they were guilty and
Show More
executed. I never gave any thought to if they actually were really guilty. This book made me wonder.

I also thought the story would be mainly centered on Ethel and Julius, however, the book is told from the point of view of Millie. We learn about Millie and her unhappy marriage and her struggles with a autistic son, whose behavior is not accepted or understood at this time. Millie befriends Ethel who also has children. We are introduced not to a traitor, but rather, a mother who loves her husband and children, but sometimes yearns for a different life.

The story was excellent and I can't wait to read more by this author. I received a complimentary copy via the Goodreads giveaway program.
Show Less
LibraryThing member hubblegal
This is an intriguing fictional account of a young mother who befriends Ethel Rosenberg. I felt it to be quite an original way of portraying Ethel as a loving wife and mother and gave a new insight into the lives of both Ethel and her husband, Julius. The neighbor, Millie, and her family are
Show More
completely fictitious but the author does weave the story around true facts.

I recently read and reviewed "A Place We Knew Well" and like that book, "The Hours Count" brought me back to that time in history when Americans lived with the fear of being bombed by Russia on a daily basis, this time focusing on the threat to Manhattan. A reader of my blog commented on my review of "A Place We Knew Well" that it was beyond him how anyone could keep a level head under that threat. I think that "The Hours Count" proves that we always didn't.

The neighbor Millie is often naive about the world around her. She's a very likable character and my heart ached for her as she struggled with her love for her mute child and her life with an unaffectionate husband. The one downside I found in the book was the love angle with Jake. I found him to be a very confusing character, one who kept deviating from what I expected of him.

Please do know that this is a very fictionalized and slanted portrayal of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. What this novel does do is give you an intimate look at the lives and fears of those living during that time period and it will make you want to read more about these people and the true facts surrounding their execution. It's a suspenseful book, even knowing the ending, due to the fictionalized story revolving around Millie. I recommend it to those interested in that time period as it will give you a good insight into the tense atmosphere Americans lived with. But I would recommend reading a factual based book if you're specifically interested in the Rosenbergs.

This book was given to me by the publisher through First to Read in return for an honest review.
Show Less
LibraryThing member MHanover10
I Knew nothing about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and found this book and their story very interesting. The book is told through the eyes of Millie Stein who lives on the same floor as the Rosenbergs and is introduced to them by her husband. She has a son, David, who doesn't speak and she meets Dr.
Show More
Jake Gold who says he will help her get David to talk. Things heat up and she soon finds out Jake is FBI. I found Millie a little naive and innocent. She could only see the good in people and wouldn't believe Ethel and Julie were guilty even after they are executed. The only person she didn't trust was her husband Ed and he was more of a convenient marriage. Jillian did a really good job of bringing all these characters to life. I was so invested in these characters that I did a little research to learn more. I highly recommend this literary fiction. It's well worth your time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member thewanderingjew
The Hours Count, Jillian Cantor
After WWII, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were arrested for spying, tried, convicted of stealing secrets enabling Russia to obtain an atomic weapon, and summarily executed. Were they guilty? David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, implicated Julius after his own arrest. His
Show More
own wife Ruth, had recently been badly burned in an accident. To save his life and hers, did he accuse his brother-in-law of being a traitor, and then to save Ruth, did he implicate and condemn his innocent sister to death? The country was awash in anti-communist fever fueled in part by the madness of McCarthy’s anti-communist investigations. It was a time when the only thing on people’s minds was the bomb, and there were hungry masses who were desperate to find someone to blame for their fears. Were those arrested encouraged to lie and make deals to save themselves to calm those fears? Perhaps justice was not served, but that angry mob, seeking vengeance for the passing of secrets to the Russians was certainly appeased.
Cantor portrays the Rosenbergs as a perfectly normal family. Ethel and Julius seemed devoted to each other and their children. He even operated his own small business. They lived happily in a neighborhood in New York City, at 10 Monroe Street, in a place called Knickerbocker Village, where Jews, communists and socialists felt at home. The Rosenbergs held meetings in their apartment with friends and associates. One day, in 1947, Ethel Rosenberg met her neighbor, Millie Stein, and the two women bonded to each other because of their loneliness. The unusual behavior of their sons caused most other parents to shun them. It is through the connection of these two women, which is made up out of whole cloth that drives the story forward.
Both women appear to be young, naive mothers struggling with somewhat difficult children who need some kind of outside intervention. One child, David Stein, is two years old when we meet him; he does not speak yet and prefers simple repetitive activities. He often simply pounds on walls or bangs on floors to get attention. His father has rejected him because he is not “normal”. The other child, John, son of Ethel Rosenberg, is bright and over aggressive when he is thwarted, often getting physical. Soon, both women have a second child and begin to help each other as neighbors often do. Both also have their children engaged in therapy to help them adjust.
Millie Stein’s husband, Ed, is a Russian who had recently come to the United States. He was a rigid, non-communicative, controlling man who made demands but showed little affection for his family. Julius and Ethel were also of Russian background, but they treated each other warmly. Julius appeared to be not only a loving and considerate husband but also a hands-on father.
At a gathering at Ethel’s apartment, Millie meets Dr. Gold. He is the therapist who later begins to treat her son’s developmental problems. They develop a relationship. At this party, Millie also hears talk of Russia. She is confused because she thought her husband had left all thought of Russia behind when he adopted the United States as his country. She then learns that Ed knew the Rosenbergs before she did and was surprised he had never introduced her to them. However, Millie is an unsophisticated young woman who asks few questions and prefers to maintain the status quo, not creating problems. She doesn’t ask her husband to explain anything about himself or his background.
When Dr. Gold offers to help Millie and David for free, she is overwhelmed and not very suspicious about his motives. He wants to analyze and study Millie and study David, hopefully helping him to learn to function on a more communicative level. Eventually he wants to publish, writing about them, without using their real names. Is his proposal realistic? As the plot plays out, the theme of secrets develops, and the story seems to be two tales in one. The first concerns what may have been the unduly, unjust treatment of the Rosenbergs which ended with their execution in 1953. Did they compromise American security to the extent of which they were accused? Did Ethel even know what her husband was up to, at the time, if he was a spy? The first half of the book develops a little slowly, perhaps because it lays the foundation and most people know the end result; the Rosenbergs were convicted and sentenced to death. The second half sets the stage for the investigation and develops the different motives of the characters. It is then that the story catches fire. The romance that developed between Millie and the doctor who treats David grows. Her life becomes more hopeful and exciting. His kindness seems to give the boy some serenity and eases his frustration, as he encourages him to find alternate ways to communicate. The second also explores the methods used by the FBI and other law enforcement during that time.
Questions will rise in the reader’s mind. Was Dr. Gold the man he presented himself to be? Was he really a doctor? Was Ed the man he presented himself to be? Were the only ones true to themselves actually the Rosenbergs? In the book, it would seem that way. After doing some research, I discovered that the Rosenberg children, Richie and John were adopted by the Meeropols. As adults, they tried to clear their parents’ names, especially that of their mother when new evidence was revealed, but they were unsuccessful. They do believe now, that their father was guilty, but that their mother was not.
The author has written a very sympathetic account of the Rosenberg’s lives in which she presents a very plausible scenario to show that at least one, if not both, could have been framed by others in order to save themselves, and in fact, decades later, two others convicted of spying for Russia at that time, did eventually tell the truth and at least attempt to clear Ethel’s name. One of those was her own brother who confessed he lied because his wife meant more to him than his sister. Should Ethel, at least, be granted a pardon for the sins for which she was condemned, sins that were never committed by her? Were the Rosenberg’s guilty? Were they sacrificial lambs, convenient victims because of their ties to communism, their Russian background and their Jewish religion at a time when the effects of the Holocaust were still ripe, and anti-Semitism was still alive and well? Who better than a couple who were perceived to have betrayed not only America, but their fellow Jews? Were the tactics used to convict them ethical, moral or legal? Was Millie a credible character? Was her behavior at the end justified? The reader will wonder about many questions, not only those I presented.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cherybear
Sometimes I wonder how such horrible things happened in our history that we forget about. One such thing was the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Hours Count tells the Rosenbergs story through the eyes of their neighbor (and Ethel's friend) Millie. The story is much more about Millie
Show More
too, who just wants to raise her troubled son, and probably escape from her cold husband. But when Millie becomes friends with Ethel, and meets an intriguing doctor at the Rosenberg's home, her life becomes entwined with a world of spies and double agents (both real and suspected) until she doesn't know what is true. But she knows her friend Ethel is not a spy, and that she loves her husband and children.
Show Less
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
I must admit I was surprised at how engrossing I found this novel. Well-written and well-paced, this novel recounts the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for Soviet espionage) from the perspective of their fictional next-door neighbor Millie Stein. Excellent character
Show More
development make this novel a compelling read and I truly appreciated the author's ability to capture the spirit of the times with all its fear and limitations. An excellent, highly recommended book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Millie and her family move into Knickerbocker Village, a few doors down from Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. A lonely woman, Millie befriends Ethel and comes to know her family and political leanings. When Julius is arrested, Ethel freezes out Millie, not wanting her to be caught in the web of
Show More
suspicion. However, when Ethel is called into court, she lives her two sons with Millie. Ethel is arrested and never returns.

This book was a bit slow moving. It seemed to take the friendship forever to develop, and even then it seemed to be more of a superficial friendship. The entire tone of the book was a bit depressing, as Millie struggled with her husband's drinking and her child's inability to speak. Even when the FBI becomes involved, it adds little to the drama. Overall, a bust.
Show Less


Page: 0.14 seconds