Sarah Wildman grew up believing her doctor-grandfather to be a hero. He didn’t just manage to get out of Nazi-occupied Austria — he helped others escape, too, and then built a distinguished medical career in America. But after his death, Wildman discovered a bundle of letters from a woman named Valy, the woman he loved and left behind. In her riveting family history, “Paper Love,” Wildman tracks down the increasingly complicated story behind her grandfather and Valy. Why didn’t he send for her? Did she ever get out?
The truth is always more complicated than legend, and Wildman, a former New York Times reporter, spent months digging out the details. Her book is laced with heartbreaking, urgent letters from Valy — tender, but growing increasingly desperate, until that final letter in November 1941.
Wildman crisscrosses Western Europe, interviewing Holocaust scholars, visiting archives, climbing the stairs to Valy’s last known apartment building in Berlin. Her research is meticulous and thorough, and her writing is captivating. This history — which grows much broader than a family history, but never grows out of control — is a page-turner, as breathtaking as any murder mystery, though sad. Very, very sad.
The Atlantic Monthly - Six Books we Missed this Year
In Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind, Sarah Wildman isn’t only on a quest to discover the fate in Nazi Germany of a young and brilliant woman whose moving letters she finds among her beloved grandfather’s papers after his death—though that quest is fascinating and suspenseful. She also draws narrative drama from wrestling with the genre itself: As she knows, and as the many guides whom she gets help from remind her, the pursuit of family Holocaust “stories that have no ending” has become something of an American staple. Wildman’s prose bristles with ambition and ambivalence, as she challenges the myth of her grandfather’s triumphant odyssey, yet also can’t resist looking (in vain) for a “happy Holocaust story” in the girl left behind.
Recovering Truth, Confronting Trauma: A Book Review of Paper Love - Huffington Post - Dr. Deborah Glasofer
In Paper Love, the story of single, remarkably ordinary woman illustrates the collective trauma of a people and a generation. We are encouraged to engage closely with the storytelling and, by extension, the healing process. Perhaps sharing these burdensome stories - of the victims of genocide, slavery, and displacement, to name just a few - can relieve even a fraction of the weight of memory rooted in the hearts and minds of the victims and future generations. If so, then it is our collective obligation to tell, to read, and to listen to as many of these stories as possible. After all, there are too many moments of human oppression in our collective past, too many individuals (too many Valys!) whose stories do not end, but rather disappear, diminishing us all.
By pressing ourselves into service, by bearing witness, we can learn the delicate balance of holding history, as Wildman puts it, "selectively, simultaneously close and at a distance." In so doing, we are likely to feel not only more connected to the past, but more responsible to one another, and to healing, in the present. READ THE REST
Paper Love in the Boston Globe
Valy’s three-year war correspondence with Karl and the subsequent search to definitively learn her fate form the beating heart of “Paper Love.” The letters create an intimate portrayal of a Jewish woman desperate to flee Nazi Germany.
JTA: Paper Love Paving the Way for Post-Survivor Storytelling.
Batya Ungar-Sargon calls Paper Love "Revolutionary"
NEW YORK (JTA) — As the last generation of Holocaust survivors ages and dies, efforts to capture their final, untold stories have abounded. But in her new book “Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind,” Sarah Wildman has turned instead to the future, asking what it means to bear witness in a world without Holocaust survivors.
“Paper Love” chronicles the author’s long and labyrinthine search for the fate of the woman whose black-and-white photos she finds amid her late grandfather Karl’s belongings. Wildman knew only the woman’s name, Valy, scrawled across the back of the photos, and that her grandmother bitterly called the mysterious dark-haired woman “your grandfather’s true love.”
Read more: http://www.jta.org/2014/11/04/arts-entertainment/paper-love-paving-the-way-for-post-survivor-storytelling#ixzz3Mq4KF0Cg
Vogue Magazine calls Paper Love a "feat of historical detective work" November 2014
A wonderful review from The Winnipeg Free Press:
"Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind is her story. Written by Karl's granddaughter, Sarah Wildman, it is a remarkable work of investigative journalism. In scope, sentiment and its meticulous research, it is comparable to Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million. It is fascinating to read." November 1, 2014
Really lovely thoughts on the blog Biographile:
"Pressing and essential, this book insists on being read for oneself:" October 31, 2014
CONDE NAST TRAVELER Nov. 2014 says Paper Love is "gripping" and "compelling"
O Magazine says Paper Love is one of Ten Titles to Pick up Now.
Kirkus Reviews - "a poignant and humane memoir"
A journalist's account of how her attempts to learn about her grandfather's lost "true love" turned into a quest to understand the place of the Holocaust in her life and the lives of other young Jews. Former New Republic staffer Wildman grew up surrounded by stories about her grandfather Karl's charmed existence. He had been one of the lucky Jews able to escape Vienna with both his life and professional credentials intact not long after Hitler annexed Austria in 1938. But when the author found photos of an unknown woman in a family album, her grandmother revealed that Karl had once been profoundly in love with a girl named Valy, whom he'd reluctantly had to leave behind. Many years later, after stumbling across letters that her grandmother had somehow overlooked in her destructive mission to preserve the myth of Karl's "spotless escape," Wildman began to put together the story behind Karl and Valy's relationship. Hungry for details, she traveled to Vienna and, later, Germany and the Czech Republic, where she researched Valy's life and visited the places that bore her imprint. The author concluded that both Karl and his lover had borne burdens of sorrow, guilt and loneliness far greater than anyone had known. At the same time, she also uncovered a worldwide network of people outside her family whose lives had been touched by not only Valy and Karl, but by Nazi terrorism. Wildman realized that history had been served to her, and the members of her generation, in ways that were far too "sanitized" and "clean." 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.
Library Journal - Starred
STARRED REVIEW! The family myth about the author’s grandfather was that he was lucky to have escaped persecution in Europe prior to World War II and that his flight to the United States was part and parcel of a fairly charmed life. Wildman’s discovery of a trove of records and letters in her grandparents’ home led the journalist to some unsettling facts about the actual difficulties her grandfather had experienced throughout the war years and thereafter. The most startling revelation: her grandfather had left behind a young woman, Valy, with whom he had an intense and long-term love affair. Wildman’s efforts to discover the truth about her grandfather’s life and any facts at all about what became of Valy form the backbone of this exemplar of investigative reporting. VERDICT Wildman’s extensive investigation into her grandfather’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 author’s gradual realization that others cared about Valy’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.
Publishers Weekly - "intimate and mesmerizing"
Wildman’s childhood image of the world was built on a family narrative filled with danger, good luck, and success. That story included her 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 Timesreporter, 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. 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.