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.
Written by Sarah Wildman.
Published by Riverhead Penguin.
To hear more about the writing of Paper Love from the author herself, listen to this on NPR's All Things Considered.
"Paper Love" originated as a five-part series in Slate but the book is different in both scale and tone. Wildman, through a combination of dogged research – she traveled to Austria, , the Czech Republic, and beyond – and luck, was able to learn more about Valy after the series’ publication. And the book is more personal than the series, both because here Wildman explores her complicated feelings about her family history and because she quotes liberally from the dozens of tender and wrenching letters Valy wrote to Karl.
Throughout Paper Love, Wildman wrestles with the value of the telling and retelling of past traumas. Trauma, as defined by mental health professionals, refers to contact with actual or threatened harm, injury or violence directly or indirectly (that is, by witnessing an event or learning that such an event has occurred to a loved one).