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October 31, 2014

Book Notes - Sarah Wildman "Paper Love"

Paper Love

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Sarah Wildman's memoir Paper Love is a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of family and war.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"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."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Sarah Wildman's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Paper Love:

Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left is a love story, a search, a history. It's my investigation into a life my grandfather kept loosely buried: he had a lover in Vienna, when he was a student at the University of Vienna between 1931 and 1938. Her name was Valerie – Valy – Scheftel. This wasn't something I knew growing up, of course. I discovered her, one day, when I was idly going through old photographs and came upon a piece of paper, folded into quadrants, with her photo in each square. My grandmother glanced it, told me it was my grandfather's "True love" – and then walked away. Years later I discovered an entire trove of Valy's letters, stuck inside a box labeled "Patient Correspondence, A-G" alongside missives from his entire exploded Viennese world. She was desperately in love and stuck in Nazi occupied Europe. I set out in search of her story, from Vienna to Berlin to the Czech Republic, back to Berlin and Vienna, to Israel and London. In between and around these cities, I was in Paris and Madrid.

The playlist for the book ranges from a mix of the songs I listened to while I roamed around the world, looking for this woman, and the music I listened to while I wrote. The former ranges to songs with words, the latter is almost all classical as I have a hard time writing with lyrics in the background.

So I'll do this in a slightly unorthodox way, I'll break this down by city:

VIENNA, part one

"People Get Ready" Eva Cassidy, version from Songbird

So right before I first went to Vienna to live as a journalism fellow at this incredible place called the "Institute for Human Sciences" - - my iPod broke and my iTunes was synced to a computer back in the states. I felt totally bereft. I arrived with a relatively new computer but no music and I slowly pulled music from friends there, and from friends at home (people literally sent me CDs). One of the few albums already uploaded to my laptop was the Eva Cassidy disc, Songbird, and I can remember riding the trams of Vienna, alone, with this song on, feeling melancholy and lonely, but also sort of happy in that odd way that solo travel makes you feel so alone and yet not necessarily sad. That said: I have one distinct memory of literally weeping, on the tram, staring out into the rainy 7th district, passing the University of Vienna, with this song on.

"Over and Over Again" Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (and maybe even this whole album)

Same era, Vienna. There's a lot here – "I heard it from a friend, religion never happened" – and "I heard it in a letter"

"Central Reservation" Beth Orton – "this time this time is fine, just as it is"
"Lived in Bars" & "The Greatest" Cat Power
"He Lays in the Reins" Calexico & Iron & Wine

We spent entirely too much time drinking in Vienna. Large, enormous beers. Supposedly if you don't finish your beer it means bad sex for a year. Or something like that. These songs, and the albums they hail from, remind me of the Ubahn, of exploring Vienna with friends, once I made them, of trying to understand where my grandfather and his lover had come from, and where I fit in, in this history, in this modern moment, with my modern friends.

"One Evening," Feist

This reminds me particularly of my friend Thomas, a dolorous Budapest born Jew, thin and beautiful with an ever-ready cigarette, a Nils. It's not the lyrics - "When we started/both brokenhearted/not believing/it could begin and end in one evening" – though that goes back to the doomed love theme of everything else – but his love of Feist, and his incredible intellect.


"Quelqu'un m'a dit" Carla Bruni

This album came out when I was first in Paris. I listened it to endlessly. The work in Paris was on forgotten camps – slave labor camps where Jews were tasked with sorting and redistributing all the goods of those who had been deported from the city. I needed something to take me out of that space, it was so heavy, and hard, and even so, Paris is so – as we all know - amazing. The juxtaposition was jarring to say the least.

"Cores" De Lata

Paris – The first long stint in Paris I rented this incredible apartment I really couldn't afford in the 3rd district, above the Arts et Metier metro stop. It was fantasy Paris, and I would play this song on the landlord's fancy mini-audio player into the all white room with no furniture and pretend this was real life.


"Vagamos por Las Calles" Francisco Nixon
"Por Que Te Vas" Javier Alvarez
"Estupida" Tulsa

In some ways Madrid was an interlude that never really made it into the book, but for my own chronology, and understanding of what I wanted to write it was essential – both because the Spanish Civil War and the way people relate to it reminds me so much of the pain of the Holocaust, and yet is so different, and because it was a time of transition, yet again, one of many. It also reminded me how much I love to feel foreign.

And then there are the lyrics – "Por Que Te Vas" in particular:

"Todas las promesas de mi amor
Se iran contigo/Me olvidaras me olividaras/Junto a la estacion hoy
Llorare igual que un nino" - "all of my love promises, are gone with you, you will forget me, you will forget me. Next to the train station, I cried like a child." Which fits exactly the story of Valy and Karl, my protagonists.

And "Vagamos por Las Calles" – I saw Francisco Nixon perform at a tiny space in central Madrid one night with my friend Diego Salazar. The chorus – "no volveras de Madrid…Por cosas de la vida nos hemos separado – you won't go back to Madrid, life has separated us."


"Take this Waltz" Leonard Cohen

I mean. Of course. It's all about love and longing in Vienna. I spent a few months living in Vienna and falling in love every other day with these philosophers, I was working alongside at the Institute for Human Studies.

"Dance me to the end of Love" the Madeleine Peyroux version

I listened to this on my return trips, often, staying in this peculiar flat that my friend Andrea rented from a very bitter woman who had a strangely large amount of money because her family owned ski resorts. The woman's former lover had had a child, and the room I slept in, mostly, was filled with the child's drawings, the child's bedding – you know, Disney, etc - the child's belongings – all of which had frozen in time around age seven for the kid. But it had been many, many years since the child lived there and it was dusty and tragic. We listened to this album a lot. And then, oddly, when I got on the plane to leave for Madrid, the song was playing.

"Wien, du stadt Meiner Traume" Richard Tauber

Tauber was a crooner of my grandfather's era. All the recordings have that marvelous LP sound behind them, and his voice has that rich 1920s quality that you feel like should be coming out of a Victrola.


"1517" The Whitest Boy Alive

I can picture walking through Berlin listening to this. "Freedom is a possibility only if you are able to say no." I can see my friend Carolyn singing it, actually. She rescued me, I was 6 months pregnant and about to leave town and couldn't remotely pack or bring my bags down the four flights of stairs that I needed to descend with all those bags to get to my taxi. She showed up with food and coffee at 6 a.m. and got me out the door. She stayed there, and when I return, I see her. She's one of those friends with whom you immediately connect.

"M'amukim" Idan Raichel "From the Depths" – "from the depths I called to you to come to me"

I saw Idan Raichel sing in Berlin, at the Rykestrasse Synagogue, one of a few that were not burned on Kristalnacht. Before he began he said his family – his grandmother – had escaped Berlin in the mid-1930s. His grandmother wondered who would see a Jewish boy sing? And the entire auditorium started hooting and clapping. The lyrics too – "who will love you from all your lovers?" fit my search for Valy, the lover my grandfather left behind.

Writing: so kind of everywhere:

There were a handful albums I listened to endlessly while writing.

Helene Grimaud, Bach Piano Pieces with Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

I listened to this as I really wrapped up the most intense and insistent part of writing. Sometimes I think if you read the words and listen to this you can hear the cadence of her piano in my sentences. Or perhaps I just hope you can. It is very fast, it is very clean, it is very intense and hypnotic. I can almost sing it for you I listened to it so much, it became the backdrop for my chapters on Valy in Berlin; it allowed me to dig in deeper, somehow.

"Solveig's Song," from Peer Gynt

Valy tells my grandfather that she sits in her tiny room, at the top of the old-age home filled with elderly Jews that her mother took over running, and she sings this song to him – I'll still be waiting, the song says, as once I promised I would. I found a recording of this in Berlin that made me weep.

"Abigaille's Aria" – Nabucco

This was the aria playing when I snuck into the opera house in the Czech Republic in the small town Valy was from. The opera house was across from Valy's childhood home.

Yo-Yo Ma, Bach Cello Suites & Vivaldi's Cello (especially Violin concerto in F minor) – it's a very familiar set of pieces, and yet I find it like an embrace somehow. These suites for solo cello remind me of Hamburg, where I went to interview the world's expert on the Reichsvereinigung, the Jewish leadership of Berlin under the Reich that Valy worked for.

Chopin, Maria João Pires  & Pavel Gomziakov – I had not known Pires well before I went searching for Chopin. This is gorgeous.

Herbert von Karajan – I wanted to listen to conductors of Berlin and Vienna of the 20th century, while my grandfather was often in Vienna. He was the best. I have him conducting various pieces of Mozart, and I have Beethoven. The latter is a 1963 remastered CD, one I bought in a remainder pile in an odd little Viennese bookstore when I had no music. See above.

Sarah Wildman and Paper Love links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Deborah Kalb interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
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musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists