December 12, 2002
The Truth About Lotty
Fans of Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski detective novels are used to following the hard-edged but soft-hearted Chicago private investigator unravel interlocking stories of white-collar crime and corruption.
While there's plenty of crime and corruption in "Total Recall" (Dell, $7.99) the V.I. Warshawski novel recently released in paperback, there's also something new: the story of Lotty Herschel's flight from Austria on the eve of the war. Lotty was a young Jewish child living in Vienna when Hitler rose to power. At 9, she fled to London through the Kindertransport -- the British rescue mission that saved thousands of Jewish children just before war broke out. She is now haunted by memories of her family that died, and does her best to suppress them.
But while Lotty tries to forget her Holocaust memories, another character is desperately trying to remember his own. Paul Radbuka announces to a panel on Holocaust restitution that he had just discovered, through memory-recovery therapy, that he had been born Jewish, lived in the Terezin transit camp as an infant, was adopted by a non-Jew and raised as a gentile. Paul believes Lotty is a long-lost relative and begs to get to know her.
Lotty is not new to Paretsky's readers. For 10 years, the graceful and hard-edged older woman has served as V.I.'s doctor, close friend and mentor. But readers learned little of her past, because, it turns out, Paretsky had difficulty telling it.
Writing about Lotty's past wasn't easy -- and it took Paretsky more than a decade to actually do it. When the issue of Holocaust restitution catapulted to international headlines, it gave Paretsky an idea of how to work it in. But even then she hesitated.
"I didn't want to be exploiting the Holocaust for financial gain," she said.
Paretsky grew up in eastern Kansas in the 1950s, and she and her brothers were often the only Jewish kids at school. The Holocaust was a large presence in Paretsky's consciousness when she was growing up.
Her father had "guilt and anger and helplessness, and all of his feelings that he passed on to me that I just couldn't deal with it."
Writing Lotty's story became a way for Paretsky to connect with her family's Holocaust experience, she said. "She's about as close I think as I can come to it in the sense that I put her in Austria instead of Eastern Europe," she said.
Paretsky said she plans to write at least one more V.I. Warshawski novel. But she finds it hard to do so after finishing "Total Recall."
"I felt that it was a complete story," she said. "That one was kind of my most personal book."
"It made it very hard to go back to work on another book in the series because, in a way, the book feels like that end. I feel like I've said everything I had to say."