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 desparate 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.
Read an Q&A with the author HERE.
Listen to a pod cast with the author HERE.
Paper Love: Inside the Holocaust Archives
Our Lost Warsaw Ghetto Diary
Praise for the Book:
"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."~O, The Oprah Magazine
"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. "~Simon Schama, author of The Story of the Jews
"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."~Kirkus
"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."~Library Journal
"Wildman’s intimate and mesmerizing biography blends her family history into the larger framework of World War II and the Holocaust."~Publishers Weekly
"Wildman's personal investment in this Holocaust-era narrative heightens the tension and raises the emotional stakes as her investigation unfolds."~Booklist