I was listening to All Things Considered today during my daily bike ride in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (yes, I have a radio on my bike) when I heard a story tailor-made for Permanent Record.
They were interviewing an author named Sarah Wildman, who has a new book called Paper Love. It's about how she found a cache of love letters that her late grandfather had saved. But the letters weren't from her grandmother; they were from a woman named Valy, who had fallen in love with Wildman's grandfather when the two of them were medical students in prewar Vienna during the 1930s. They had a whirlwind romance and had planned to escape Vienna together when the Nazis annexed Austria, but he ended up leaving with his family while Valy was left behind.
As Wildman read the letters, she began realizing that the story they told didn't quite jibe with the family history she'd been taught over the years. She also became fixated on Valy and on what had happened to her. Had she been killed in the Holocaust? Had Wildman's grandfather felt guilty about leaving her behind?
Wildman's grandfather had passed away by the time she found the letters, so she couldn't ask him to fill in any of the details, and her grandmother refused to say anything about the letters except to acknowledge that Valy had been her husband's "true love." So Wildman began researching — an effort that took her several years and across several continents. I haven't yet read the book, but apparently she hit some kind of paydirt at the end of her project.
Here's the All Things Considered interview with Wildman (if the audio player doesn't show up on your browser, you should be able to access it in the links that follow):