ATG Book of the Week: Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite

by | Apr 22, 2013 | 0 comments

Author: Julija Sukys
Hardcover: ISBN 978-0-8032-3632-5, $24.95;
Kindle Edition: ASIN: B008FMU34I, $9.99
Imprint: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012


“The librarian walks the streets of her beloved Paris. An old lady with a limp and an accent, she is invisible to most. Certainly no one recognizes her as the warrior and revolutionary she was, when again and again she slipped into the Jewish ghetto of German-occupied Vilnius to carry food, clothes, medicine, money, and counterfeit documents to its prisoners. Often she left with letters to deliver, manuscripts to hide, and even sedated children swathed in sacks. In 1944 she was captured by the Gestapo, tortured for twelve days, and deported to Dachau.
Through Epistolophilia, Julija Šukys follows the letters and journals—the “life-writing”—of this woman, Ona Šimaitė (1894–1970). A treasurer of words, Šimaitė carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of her life, including thousands of letters, scores of diaries, articles, and press clippings. Journeying through these words, Šukys negotiates with the ghost of Šimaitė, beckoning back to life this quiet and worldly heroine—a giant of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashem’s honored “Righteous Among the Nations”) and yet so little known. The result is at once a mediated self-portrait and a measured perspective on a remarkable life. It reveals the meaning of life-writing, how women write their lives publicly and privately, and how their words attach them—and us—to life.”


“Sukys draws liberally from thousands of pages of correspondence and numerous diaries to create a portrait of a deeply thoughtful woman trying to make sense of history and her own life by putting it all to paper. Also of Lithuanian descent, Sukys’s own meditations on the power of letters and writing make this a powerful testament to the confluence of history and individual lives and passions.”—Publishers Weekly

Epistolophilia is not a typical biography, and Šimaitė was not a typical World War II hero. For readers looking for an unconventional account of the World War II and post-war eras, as well as those interested in women’s life writing, Epistolophilia is a nuanced and compelling work.”—ForeWord Reviews

“Sukys is to be commended for providing us with this testament and story of a little known hero. . . . The writing is done with care and precision bringing to life a woman who we might have otherwise overlooked.”—Jerusalem Post

“Sukys is to be commended for providing us with this testament and story of a little known hero, who might otherwise have been overlooked.”—Abe Novick, Baltimore Jewish Times

“A startling paradox that while Simaite died at 76 before completing her memoirs, Sukys is able to capture Simaite’s story while successfully writing an unexpected memoir of her own.”—Meredith Wood Bahuriak, PLOP! Review

“A mosaic of Šimaitė’s life, Epistolophilia enables readers to create a three-dimensional person with the little information available.”—Mélanie Grondin, Montreal Review of Books

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