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Interviews with Melissa W. Hunter
Q: Tell us a little about your book and how you came to write it.
A: My novel What She Lost is based on my grandmother’s life as a young woman in Poland both before and after the Holocaust. Growing up, my grandmother and I were very close, and she shared many stories of her youth with me over the years. I always knew that I wanted to write her story one day. When I was in my early twenties, I recorded an hour-and-a-half conversation with her that became the foundation of my novel. I’m so glad I was able to capture her words for posterity, and to pass on to my own children and future branches of our family tree.
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Year of the Debut Author Interview
Featured on Ten Penny Blog
Praise for What She Lost!
"The author succeeds in bringing her grandmother’s world to life; it’s hard to emerge from this reading experience unaffected. Told with unflinching honesty, the book is simultaneously engrossing and painful to read because of the tragedies experienced by the family during the Holocaust. But rather than being all about darkness and tragedy, ultimately this is a book about resiliency and the ability to heal from a life replete with loss."
Historical Novel Review, Issue. 91
I very much enjoyed your lecture and appreciated your taking the time to support HHC. I purchased your book (and) I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed it! You are an excellent writer and told your grandmother’s story beautifully. I can see why she inspired you so much. I will now pass your book around to other members of my family and know they will enjoy it as I did. The courage and strength your grandmother (and others of her time and experience) displayed, helps us know that we can persevere in the present, albeit somewhat less challenging time.
Keep writing and stay safe.
Dr. John Cohen, Chair
Holocaust and Humanity Center
Board of Trustees
Q: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
A: Not to give up! I began writing in middle school and knew early on that writing was my passion. For me, it is a cathartic experience. As I got older and decided to pursue writing as a career, I faced a lot of obstacles, from being able to make a living doing something I loved to dealing with rejection. I would definitely tell my younger self to tune out the nagging thoughts and self-doubt that come with rejection and, most importantly, not to lose the joy that writing has given me.
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An Interview with Melissa W. Hunter
Featured on Women Writers, Women's Books
The knock came in the early hours of dawn. Like a rude shake, it pulled me unceremoniously from sleep. My mother’s face swam before me as I blinked in the dim light. Majer was sleeping in her arms. David held onto her skirt, his thumb in his mouth. “Sarah,” she said urgently. “Wake up!”
“What’s happening,” I murmured, looking up at her frightened face.
“Stay in here,” she whispered, laying the twins in bed beside me and pulling her shawl around her shoulders. “Whatever you do, stay in here with the twins and stay quiet. Stay hidden.”
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Find What She Lost on Goodreads
Grades 7-12. When Sarah turns 13, tragedy strikes . . . What follows is a fictionalized account of Hunter's grandmother's experiences as her family endures Bloody (Wednesday), a march to the ghetto and eventual separation and transport to concentration camps. So much was lost by her grandmother and others during the Holocaust. But what survived was the ability to love and hope. A powerful and beautiful story of survival.
What She Lost was almost as hard to put down as it was to read. It's a very well-written Holocaust story that deserves to be told, but about such a horrific time in world history.
Such a great book. I couldn't put it down. Been a long time since a book grabbed me like this. Even shed a tear or two.
Just an impressive book! The story grabs you from the first page and you won't put the book down until you're done. I couldn't read it fast enough.
Now an official WFWA Goodreads selected title
Clips from the conversation that inspired What She Lost
Below: Sala discusses growing up with her famiy in Olkusz, Poland.
Below: Sala remembers when the Nazis invade Poland.
Below: Sala discusses moving to the ghetto (she uses the term 'suburb') and the woman who inspired the character of Babcia.
If you can imagine, I am sitting in my small "Suzuki Splash" car waiting for someone on a very busy Tel Aviv street reading and finishing your book. That is, I just finished it! I truly enjoyed it, and more than once was moved by it, at times with tears streaming down my cheeks. Perhaps I, at 86, having survived some of the horrors of the Holocaust, and having lost so many members of my family (about 26) it reminded me of just how little I knew about the daily (and) nightly constant suffering of all who found themselves in the clutches of the Nazis! Because I was so young and small, I could hardly know or imagine the cruelty, inhumanity and outright torture people suffered, and that includes, of course, my entire family, including my 83-year-old great-grandmother, whom I do remember seeing in the corner of the train station about to be sent to Treblinka and sure death! She was small, frail, dressed in her long black best outfit, seeing me and my mom's worried face, and her saying, "don't worry, what can they do to an old lady like me?!" Little did SHE or US know . . .
In your book, in some instances where you describe the unfathomable situations where people were separated from each other (and) treated subhuman, it allowed me , to some extent, to imagine what and how my family was treated and wiped out from the face of this earth, for no other reason than that they were born Jews! Most of them, in my case, were not observant Jews, celebrating Pesach, Chanukah, and maybe Yom Kippur, but not much more than that! They, like I, spoke Czech or German, with very little knowledge of Yiddish. It was not easy at times for ME , reading your book, but in some ways it was a bit cleansing, if you get what I mean! How I wish I had had a "Bubbe" like you did, who had survived and could tell me what really happened at least to some of my family. In that way you are lucky, to have had her, and she sure sounds like a person full of life!
So, thank you (for sharing your book), and let's keep in touch.
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WHAT SHE LOST
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WHAT SHE LOST
A review by Deanna Boe
Special Features Contributor to the Akron Hometowner
Committee member for "All Roswell Reads"
I have written over 500 book reviews in the last 12 years, and the books that always stand out and remain foremost in my memory are those written by people who have either experienced what they are writing about, or know someone close to them who has (lived through the narrative). My question is, can there ever be enough written by people who have lived through the horrible things man does to his fellow man? The answer is obviously no. No matter how many books have been written about the Holocaust, there can never be too many. Each one sheds a new light on (this horrible time). In light of the ugly racist happenings now going on in the U.S., we need to continue to read what can easily happen if we turn our backs on others we feel are not the same as we are.
Saying all this, is a pleasure to discover a new author who gives us a fresh look at the Holocaust as seen through her own eyes, since she is writing about her grandmother's life. Melissa Hunter is able to capture the true essence and feelings of that time frame; she manges to give you the impression that it is actually her grandmother who is writing. Melissa's words are well-written and powerful to remember, and will leave a lasting impresion.
What She Lost pulls you in from the very beginning and keeps your attention right to the end. It is written as a novel and is told in first-person point-of-view, as if Hunter’s grandmother is actually telling the story. Sarah Waldman is thirteen years old when she describes what life is like in her small Polish town of Olkusz, Poland. The writing is such that you can actually see and feel what is happening all around Sarah and her family . . . the small apartment they live in and the curtained bedroom area that she shares with her older sister, her mother busy cooking what little there is to provide. You experience the love Sarah has for not only her sister, but her older brothers and especially her young twin brothers. You obviously know what is just around the corner for them, but the writing captures your interest in such a way you can only hope that this is one family where they all survive.
The storyline skips over most of the gruesome happenings once they were taken from their village in 1942 until May 1945. We know how she and her cousin Gutcha were taken together, and it is amazing to find out they are still together three years later. Their love and care for each other definitely helped each of them to stay alive. We do not learn the worst of what happened to Sarah until she breaks down and tells the man she met after being released from the camp and will soon marry. My only disappointment was the ending, when they are helped by a Russian to escape to the American sector where they will find freedom. In short, what happened then and how do they get to the United States? I can only hope for a sequel to this wonderfully written book. In my personal observation I feel the writing far exceeds the popular novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
What She Lost!
What She Lost or the American Image of Jewish Olkusz
by Krzysztof Kocjan
The following is an excerpt from a review on the Polish memorial website devoted to the Jewish residents of Olkusz:
"It is (a) fascinating experience to read a book on my home town published on the other side of the globe. It is fascinating to be at a position to verify a picture presented in this book with available historical documents. The book (by) Melissa W. Hunter, although her action takes place in geographical and historical realities, is also a book about memory. We see (the) author’s huge desire to recreate a world she did not get to know, had no opportunity to experience, like most of us, although we were born in this city, but not at that time. As she says: "I based my story on an interview I had with my grandmother. During that interview, she told me the names of places I knew little to nothing about—Olkusz, Reichenbach, and the camps she was in. She even had photos in her possession that I thought only belonged to our family. When I was researching Olkusz, the town where she grew up, I discovered not only those same photos online but others as well. Those photos became inspiration for (one of) my chapters. Discoveries like these were true gems. Also, when I discovered that the satellite camp she had been in (Peterswaldau) was a subcamp of Gross Rosen, which neighbored the town of Reichenbach where she resettled—this was like successfully fitting pieces of a puzzle together.”
Reading Melissa W. Hunter's book is finally a good reason to think about our own memory, the memory of (not only) our own experiences, but also (those) that (have been) passed down by previous generations. Memory, (the) deficiency of which we feel more and more over the course of our lives, a memory of questions not asked and therefore missed. Memory, which, when not verified, quickly becomes its denial - an idealized untruth. And there is also in this memory the moral dimension of history, which should be a teacher of life and not become – like in Osiecka's poem Orszaki, dworaki – cheap strumpet and even voracious myth. As Hunter says: "What She Lost was a hard book to write, but the scenes that involved Sarah’s mother—where she had to watch helplessly what was happening to her children—were the hardest. I began writing this novel when I was in my twenties. I had just married and didn’t have children. I definitely struggled to infuse the manuscript with the emotion I was hoping to capture. I’ve said this book was meant to be written now, twenty years later, because it took being a mom myself truly to understand what these characters experienced. I shed a lot of tears during the writing of this book, but hopefully I was able to portray depth of emotion as a result.”
It seems to me that I understand what Hunter talks about, because I experienced similar as young father reading terrifying account of Dawid Nassan from Skała near Olkusz10. And despite of all geography, living in other place, with a dramatically different generational heritage separating me from the author of What She Lost, this is an experience which - although it did not touch my family as personally as the family of the author – unites us. The heroine of the book by Melissa W. Hunter, her grandmother, Chaja Sura Waltman passed away on 13 February this year in the United States as Sala Werthaiser, nee Waldmann, at the age of 96.
Below: Sala discusses meeting the Russian lieutenant after the liberation of Peterswaldau.
Below: Sala talks about arriving in Reichenbach after the liberation of Peterswaldau and meeting Harry.
Below: Sala remembers her courtship and wedding to Harry.
Below: Sala discusses her feelings about leaving Europe and coming to America.
The story continues in What They Found, the second novel in the series.
Release date TBA