Synopses & Reviews
One womanand#8217;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 grandfatherand#8217;s death, journalist Sarah Wildman stumbled upon a cache of his letters in a file labeled and#147;Correspondence: Patients Aand#150;G.and#8221; What she found inside werenand#8217;t dry medical histories; instead what was written opened a path into the destroyed world that was her familyand#8217;s prewar Vienna. One womanand#8217;s letters stood out: those from Valyand#151;Valerie Schefteland#151;her grandfatherand#8217;s lover, who had remained behind when he fled Europe six months after the Nazis annexed Austria.
Valyand#8217;s name wasnand#8217;t unknown to herand#151;Wildman had once asked her grandmother about a dark-haired young woman whose images she found in an old photo album. and#147;She wasand#160;your grandfatherand#8217;s true love,and#8221; her grandmother said at the time, and refused any other questions. But now, with the help of the letters, Wildman started to piece together Valyand#8217;s story. They revealed a woman desparate to escape andand#160; clinging to the memory of a love that defined her years of freedom.
Obsessed with Valyand#8217;s story, Wildman began a quest that lasted years and spanned continents. She discovered, to her shock, an entireand#160;world of other people searching for the same woman. In the course ofand#160; discoveringand#160; Valyand#8217;s ultimate fate, she was forced to reexamine the story of her grandfatherand#8217;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. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A hidden trove of letters sparks Sarah Wildman's feat of historical detective work,and#160;Paper Love, which probes her family's 'myth of a spotless escape' from Europe in 1938and#8212;and recaptures the voice of a young woman doctor caught in a tightening web, and the textures and emotions of her vanished world."and#8212;Vogue
"Wildman meticulously pieces together the brave and tragic life of the woman her grandfather left behind when he fled Austria on the eve of World War II."and#8212;O, The Oprah Magazine
"In the abyss of one of historyand#8217;s greatest tragedies, does one personand#8217;s story matter? This is the question at the heart of Sarah Wildmanand#8217;s Paper Love, a memoir of chasing a ghostand#8212;specifically, the ghost of Valy Scheftel, a woman Wildmanand#8217;s grandfather left behind when he miraculously escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna. . . . The growing obsession with the mystery woman is the memoirand#8217;s catalyst. It sends Wildman on a journey across Europe and against time, trying to trace Valyand#8217;s life while Holocaust survivors still live, the window of opportunity as slight as her grandfatherand#8217;s shot at getting out of Nazi territory before he was captured. Her impeccable research structures the book as a historical narrative on the annexation of Europe and the psychological torture of the Jewish people as hope was slowly extinguished. . . . Only by taking the time to wonder and mourn the extinguishing of a single brilliant, magical existence can we comprehend the millions of others. In Paper Love, Wildman does not bring us the story of a race that is doomed. She shines a light on its boundless potential."and#8212;Bustle
"Sarah Wildman's Paper Love [is]and#160;aand#160;gripping memoir about her grandfather, his escape from Austria . . . and a family secret. . . . Compelling."and#8212;Conde Nast Traveler
"Ignore anyone who tells you there is nothing more to be said about the Holocaust, and no new ways of telling the tragedy. Sarah Wildman's gripping, tender, beautifully painful book gets to the heart of the matter through matters of the heart. And along with the pathos and pain, there is profound and honest thoughtfulness too. "and#8212;Simon Schama, author of The Story of the Jews
"In her riveting family history, Paper Love, Wildman tracks down her grandfatherand#8217;s story and discovers that there are no simple truths from that time, and definitely no easy answers."and#8212;Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"This profound book derives its power not so much from the love story at its heart, but from the historical urgency with which Wildman infuses it. The author makes clear that only by engaging with inherited past trauma deeply and fully can individuals and communities begin the long and difficult process of looking for ways to regain wholeness. A poignant and humane memoir."and#8212;Kirkus
"Wildmanand#8217;s extensive investigation into her grandfatherand#8217;s history is well documented and analyzed, but it is her determination to find out what happened to Valy, a woman at the periphery of the family circle, that distinguishes this family history. The authorand#8217;s gradual realization that others cared about Valyand#8217;s fate, too, led her to a larger understanding of the unbearable circumstances and decisions faced by everyone involved, even those lucky enough to establish new lives elsewhere."and#8212;Library Journal (starred)
"Wildmanand#8217;s intimate and mesmerizing biography blends her family history into the larger framework of World War II and the Holocaust."and#8212;Publishers Weekly
"Wildman's personal investment in this Holocaust-era narrative heightens the tension and raises the emotional stakes as her investigation unfolds."and#8212;Booklist
"Paper Loveand#160;is a Holocaust memoir, a survivor's tale and a detective story all at once. . . . In an increasingly digital age, I was staggered by Wildman's description of the paper records that still exist, accounting for thousands of people both lost and found. Paper Love is an intimate portrait of a woman caught in the Nazi netand#8212;a woman who might have been forgotten without Wildman's efforts. In telling Valy's story, Wildman reflects on the stories we tell about our own pasts, what we include and whatand#8212;and whoand#8212;we leave out."and#8212;Bookpage
and#8220;In this captivating and elegantly written book, Sarahand#160;Wildman uses the story of a single, fascinating but utterly normal woman to illuminate the tragedy of the millions murdered during the Holocaust. Though the themes are universaland#8212;family, memory, mythand#8212;what makes this remarkable book shine is the way Wildman brings to life a person lost to history, making us care desperately both for her and for her vanished world.and#8221;and#8212;Ayelet Waldman, author of Love and Treasure
"In spellbinding prose, Sarah Wildman traces her quest to understand what happened to her grandfatherand#8217;s mysterious lover whom he had to leave behind when he fled Vienna in 1938. Revealing deeper truths about history and the tricky nature of memory, Paper Love is a breathtakingly powerful and beautiful new book.and#8221;and#8212;David Grann, author of
One womans 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 grandfathers death, journalist Sarah Wildman stumbled upon a box of his letters, labeled Patient Correspondence.” But the letters inside werent the dry details of his patients; instead, they were a path into his past, and the story of Valerie (Valy) Scheftel, the woman he left behind when he fled Europe on the eve of the Nazi annexation of Austria.
Wildman had spent her entire childhood obsessed with her grandfathers escape from Vienna. He was the hero in a myth of success and happiness. But she knew this was only part of the story. Years before, she had found a photograph of a young woman tucked away in a photo album. When confronted with the photo, her grandmother would say only, She was your grandfathers true love.” Now, with the help of the letters, Wildman began to piece together who she was. The letters revealed a woman anxious to leave but also finding comfort in remembering a love that she held desperately to, even as Wildmans grandfather began a new life in America.
Determined to discover what happened to Valy and what her grandfather had done to help her, Wildman began a quest that lasted years and forced her to reexamine the story of her grandfathers triumphant escape and how this history fit within her own life, discovering Valys ultimate fate, and in the process rescuing a life seemingly lost to history.
About the Author
Sarah Wildman is the author of Paper Love. She has reported across Europe and the Middle East for The New York Times, Slate, and The New Yorker, among other publications, and is a former New Republic staffer. She is the recipient of the Peter R. Weitz Prize from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, "for excellence and originality in reporting on Europe and the transatlantic relationship," for the series in Slate where Paper Love originated. Wildman lives in Washington, D.C.