Sunday, December 7, 2014

a month and a book

mostly i want to talk about a book, but i'll talk a little about a month first.

november seemed to go by really, really fast. we did a lot of fun stuff. we visited family, played with cousins, had a first snow here in virginia, and i capped the month off with a trip to chicago.

i think i've traveled for business once in my life and that was to juneau, alaska. i barely survived landing at the airport that time forgot, so thankfully, my trip to midway (by way of atlanta) was smooth.

i know it's silly to feel all grown up at 36, but honestly, navigating a huge city by way of cabs, metros and train lines alone all while covering a high-tech radiology conference really makes you feel like a competent human being when you can accomplish it all without getting mugged, lost or fired.

yay, megan.

on to the book...

i read about sarah wildman's "paper love" on and knew it was something i'd be interested, hefty $12 price tag (for a darn ebook) be damned.

the gist of it? wildman's grandfather escaped the holocaust and set up a successful medical practice here in the states. he went on to have a wild, fun life full of family, adventure and comfort. after his death, wildman (a journalist) discover's a hidden trove of letters from a girl back in vienna named valy.

"his first true love," according to wildman's grandmother.

"paper love" tracks wildman's exhaustive search to find out what happened to valy (a fellow doctor) who didn't make it out of vienna ahead of the nazi invasion.

i'll stop here and say that i read a lot of holocaust literature. my favorite, so far, has been a fiction book called "blessings on the moon" but i've read elie wiesel's books a few times and have read corrie ten boom and managed to finish "auschwitz: a doctor's eyewitness account" by miklos nyiszli. that one was really tough to digest and walk away from at the same time.

the premise for "paper love" really grabbed me. a collection of found ephemera (remember my recent obsession with collections of long-forgotten recipe cards i run across?) leads a writer on a multi-year journey across the states, europe and the uk trying to find out whatever happened to this woman she's growing increasingly fond of as she researches the times valy lived in and valy herself through the letters to her grandfather. she interviews experts, family members and relatives of the players in the story.

wildman weaves the german invasion era well with modern day as she makes her way across europe in search of clues as to valy's fate. with wildman, we're all holding out hope that valy was an exception and not a norm for jews during the nazi occupation.

valy is brave and smart and manages to stay just outside deportation to forced labor camps time and time again. she refuses to leave europe without her mother when wildman's grandfather flees with his family in 1938. he promises to send for her...but it's a promise he can't keep for many, many heartbreaking reasons.

there's a point in the book and in valy's letters (after the anxiousness and the desperation) where she realizes her true love isn't going to come back for her. it's a hard section to read, to say the least.

we follow valy (and wildman's) movements through berlin as 1943 dawns. valy's married a much younger, courageous man from the jewish hospital where she works. he's trying to save valy as much as he's trying to save himself and you're pulling so hard for these two.


can i just say how hollow i've felt the past couple of days since reading the book?

Dr. Valy (Valerie) Scheftel
hans and valy make a plan to go underground in berlin ahead of the final gestapo roundup of jewish hospital workers. hans and his friend ernest go to their apartment to gather valy to make their escape, but their greeted by a gestapo officer lying in wait.

valy's already been rounded up hours earlier. they missed their chance to escape by one day...

the gestapo grab hans.

ernest makes an escape. he survives the war and spends decades looking for valy and frans, only to find they didn't make it to the following evening. they died upon arrival at the camp.

ernest (one of my favorite characters of the book) eventually buys a commemorative plaque for the couple and list their death dates as 29 january 1943. remarkable valy was 31, brave hans was 21.

i. was. so. broken.

valy was brilliant and brave and stayed behind to save her mother who was killed a few weeks later.

i know i rarely post book reviews here the past few years, but if this book made it's way to just one friend's hand, well, then mission accomplished.

it will rip you apart and slowly sew you back together again. it will break your heart but open your eyes to hope at the same time.

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1 comment:

  1. Buying this book NOW. (i stopped reading your post, btw...)