About Paper Love
She was your grandfather’s true love, was the only answer given when Sarah Wildman presented her grandmother with a dozen photographs of a dark-haired, smiling young woman she had stumbled upon in her grandfather’s old office. “True love”? It was stated as fact, and with no further information. Who was this woman? And what was her relationship to her grandfather? When pressed, her grandfather’s sister offered a bit more: “She was brilliant! And so in love with your grandfather.” It was tantalizing, but agonizingly open-ended.
Years after her grandparents' had both passed away, Wildman found a cache of letters written to her grandfather in a file labeled “Correspondence: Patients A–G.” What she found inside weren’t dry medical histories; what was written instead opened a path into the destroyed world that was her family’s prewar Vienna. One woman’s letters stood out: these were mailed from the woman in the photo. Her name was Valerie Scheftel—Valy. She was Karl’s lover, who had remained in Europe when he boarded a ship bound for the United States in Hamburg in September 1938. But why had she not left with Karl? And more important, what had happened to her? With the help of the letters Valy had written her grandfather, Wildman started to piece together her story. The letters revealed a woman desperate to escape and still clinging to the memory of a love that defined her years of freedom.
Riverhead Penguin October 30, 2014