One woman’s journey to find the lost love her grandfather left behind when he fled pre-World War II Europe, and an exploration into family identity, myth, and memory.
Years after her grandfather’s death, journalist Sarah Wildman stumbled upon a cache of his letters in a file labeled “Correspondence: Patients A–G.” What she found inside weren’t dry medical histories; instead what was written opened a path into the destroyed world that was her family’s prewar Vienna. One woman’s letters stood out: those from Valy—Valerie Scheftel. Her grandfather’s lover who had remained behind when he fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed Austria.
Valy’s name wasn’t unknown to her—Wildman had once asked her grandmother about a dark-haired young woman whose images she found in an old photo album. “She was your grandfather’s true love,” her grandmother said at the time, and refused any other questions. But now, with the help of the letters, Wildman started to piece together Valy’s story. They revealed a woman desperate to escape and clinging to the memory of a love that defined her years of freedom.
Obsessed with Valy’s story, Wildman began a quest that lasted years and spanned continents. She discovered, to her shock, an entire world of other people searching for the same woman. On in the course of discovering Valy’s ultimate fate, she was forced to reexamine the story of her grandfather’s triumphant escape and how this history fit within her own life and in the process, she rescues a life seemingly lost to history.
Wildman's childhood image of the world was built on a family narrative filled with danger, good luck and success. That story included grandfather's escape from Nazi-occupied Vienna and the successful life he created in America. However, a few years after her grandfather's death, a conversation with her grandmother shattered the "myth of a spotless escape; and, in part, a carefully curated history." After finding a trove of letters from Valy, her grandfather's "true love," tucked away in a file drawer, Wildman, a former New York Times reporter, begins a journey, hoping to uncover what became of the young woman whose letters stopped in 1941. "I wanted to use these small clues, these pieces of paper to rescue Valy's memory retrace her steps from birth through school through the years she wrote her letters and, perhaps, even find her again." Wildman reveals the complicated story behind her grandfather's and Valy's lives once the war shattered their youthful, innocent world. Wildman's quest took years and took her across the globe. She visited Trebic, one of the most well-preserved Jewish ghettos in the world, the Czech countryside, London, Vienna, Berlin, the secretive International Tracing Service archives in the German village of Arolsen, and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Wildman's intimate and mesmerizing biography blends her family history into the larger framework of World War II and the Holocaust.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Paper Love is hard to categorize-- part detective story, part history, and part love story. Sarah takes the reader on a journey of search and discovery, that builds on itself page after page. There are dead ends and cinematic breakthroughs and it is filled with twists and unexpected turns. This book will stay with me for a very long time. It is one of the best books I've read in quite a while.