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Paper Is White

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  142 ratings  ·  32 reviews
When oral historian Ellen Margolis and her girlfriend decide to get married, Ellen realizes that she can't go through with a wedding until she tells her grandmother. There's only one problem: her grandmother is dead. As the two young women beat their own early path toward marriage equality, Ellen's longing to plumb that voluminous silence draws her into a clandestine entan ...more
ebook, 318 pages
Published February 19th 2018 by Bywater Books
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4.21  · 
Rating details
 ·  142 ratings  ·  32 reviews

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Mya Alexice
a sweet, moving story about love, loss, and the meaning of history.
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was interesting content wise, and I'd rate it at a 3.5. I actually really enjoyed that it was set in 1997, which I can vividly recall my own past. The book had moments of heartache and frustration at what the two MCs have to deal with in planning a lesbian wedding before it was legal, both from their own families and the public. Mixed with this was the story of an elderly Jewish woman, Anya, whom Ellen feels a connection with and is trying to learn her story from the war. And wow, can ...more
Erika Dreifus
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: jewish-lit
I'd been looking forward to reading this book for months, and I wasn't at all disappointed when I finally got to spend time with the copy I purchased at a reading the author recently gave in New York. This is a debut novel embedded in recent history: 1990s dot-com-era San Francisco. It features a protagonist whose professional life is devoted to recording the testimony of Holocaust survivors and whose personal life includes, with her girlfriend, an early path toward marriage equality. Resonant e ...more
Apr 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
‘I had never fit in a dress my mother imagined for me.’

California author Hilary Zaid earned her PhD in English form the University of California, Berkeley and publishes her debut novel PAPER IS WHITE having published a short story MY TRIPLE X VALANTINE’S AT THE FAR PONT SENIOR VILLAS previously: with this new book she is most assuredly making an impressive entry into the literary scene – and especially the LGBTQ genre. She is a 2017 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers' Conference a
Hilary Zaid
Jun 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
2019 GOLD MEDAL WINNER-- Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY), LGBT+ Fiction
LONG LIST FOR FICTION--Northern California Independent Bookseller's Association (NCIBA)
"50 Must-Read LGBTQ Fiction Books"--BookRiot
"50 of the Best LGBTQ Books of 2018"-- Autostraddle
"9 Best LGBT Novels to Look Out for in 2018" --UK Independent
"Your Summer Reading List: New Books from Bay Area Authors" --East Bay Express
"11 LGBTQ Books
Dannica Zulestin
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is just a really good book?
I'm pretty sure it's not meant to be a page turner but I could not put it down. I read it on Sunday but am only reviewing it now bc I had no internet this weekend. (Which was another reason I managed to read it in one day, but anyways.)

I don't have any complicated analysis here, this is just the best book I've read in a long time. I love all the complicated relationship dynamics. I love Francince and Ellen's domestic coupledom, and the complications that ensue whe
Lee Romer Kaplan
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In Paper Is White, Hilary Zaid has written a lyrical, compelling book that is both familiar and quietly surprising. The lovers at the heart of this story are two Jewish women in the 1990s San Francisco Bay Area, long before marriage equality exists. Despite doubts, upended friendships, the quiet unraveling or stasis in the two women's families of origin, the lovers want to be married, in a traditional and cultural sense, if not legally.

That Zaid weaves into her story a second thread of
Aug 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This beautiful novel is heartfelt, tender, angry, at times funny, and always brave. The months leading up to the late-90s wedding of Ellen and Francine feel so real—readers will be swept along by this love story and its attendant delight and complication. Ellen is an oral historian, interviewing Holocaust survivors in their last years; Francine teaches preschool. Both navigate troubled families, painful memories, shifting friendships, and the realities of romantic commitment. Their joy is not wi ...more
Ann G.
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinary novel, writing so beautiful you want to read it out loud to anyone lucky enough to be sitting nearby. It's that rare gem: if you are part of any of the communities described in the book you will love the exquisite portrayals, but if you're not you'll be swept away anyway. In other words: This is a novel ABOUT a Jewish lesbian couple in the SF Bay Area, and it's a novel FOR anyone at all who loves terrific writing and a terrific story.
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really liked this book. It’s a multi-layered story of a 20-something woman living in the Bay Area in the 90s, preparing to marry her girlfriend while grappling with her Jewish identity, history, and her relationship with her family. I’m a Jewish lesbian in my 20s from San Francisco, so needless to say I found it very relatable!

I bought this ages ago and put off reading it because I thought it would be super heavy, as the main character works at a Holocaust oral history non-profit and it’s a l
Rahnuma Khan
Oct 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
279 page nearly done... I gave up, I have one word for this one "boring" 😌
Rebecca Farrell
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There's so much to unpack in this layered, beautifully written story that takes place in 1990s Berkeley. Whispers of a ghost story intrigue, and then the author lolls the reader into believing all is well with the ghosts of the past until it isn't. The main character pursues her passions and obsessions with preserving the narratives of holocaust survivors while navigating her own upcoming nuptials in a time in which those nuptials aren't legal but the meaning behind them take on all the more sig ...more
Y.Z. Chin
Apr 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a finely-crafted novel, at its heart a celebration of language and human communication that knows full well the limitations of said communication. It follows Ellen as she navigates both getting married to her girlfriend before gay marriage is legal, and also recording the testimonies of Holocaust survivors before time runs out on them -- two very different kinds of "before," both requiring the exchange of truths that is at times difficult for Ellen to navigate. The book is rife with misu ...more
Pat Dobie
Nov 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved the characters in PAPER IS WHITE, and the story it tells. The main character, Ellen, is funny, smart, kind and yet a little screwed up. A very likeable human, whose few small mistakes and silences create bigger problems as she and her girlfriend Francine try to navigate their way through planning their wedding in a world before gay marriage was legal, and in the face of familial incomprehension. Ellen's romantic past and her dead grandmother, her work documenting the memories of Holocaus ...more
R.L. Maizes
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hilary Zaid’s PAPER IS WHITE is a beautiful, lyrical novel that examines silence: the silence of Holocaust survivors who will soon disappear and the silence of mourners whose losses are too difficult to speak. Set in dotcom era San Francisco and the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, the novel has at its heart two relationships. One couple plans a not-yet-legal lesbian marriage; the other two women friends fight to survive the Nazi occupation. Their stories are intertwined by a mystery and by the women’ ...more
Freyja Vanadis
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you looked for the definition of "stereotypical neurotic Jewish woman" in the dictionary, you'd find the name Ellen Margolis. The lead character of this book was neurotic beyond words, definitely way beyond anyone I've ever known. I have no idea how Francine was able to stay with her for so long; I'd have kicked her crazy ass to the curb years ago. Ms. Zaid's writing is incredible, but man oh man. I don't know if she purposely wrote Ellen to be unlikable, but that's certainly the effect she h ...more
Jane Hamilton
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One young woman's late 20th century search for marriage equality and the truth about the Holocaust play off each other in PAPER IS WHITE, two distinct and yet merging worlds, in a dialogue of whispers.
Erin White
Mar 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this novel! It's a beautiful love story, set in Oakland, CA in the 90s, and filled with funny moments, heartaches, marvelously real and tender and complex depictions of a love affair between two women. It was a pleasure to read.
Jun 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Read this book. It is great and my friend wrote it! Will appeal to women, people with families, Jews, lesbians, and those interested in all of the above, plus the Holocaust.
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Hilary Zaid's debut novel, “Paper is White,” is a beautiful story of love, remembrance, silence, and celebration. Balancing weighted subjects with blue skies and beautiful slices of cake, with wedding arrangements and secret encounters, Zaid measures out humor with generosity, hope with passion, even grief with impossible understanding. Through narrative spun in first person, lead character and heroine Ellen Margolis finds her way in late 90s San Francisco, where elderly Holocaust survivors reve ...more
Janine Kovac
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The jacket copy will tell you that Paper is White is the story of Ellen Margolis, an oral historian who records stories from Holocaust survivors, and her fiancé as they plan their wedding in pre-marriage equality California. But really this a book about secrets and stories, what we chose to share and what we chose to keep for ourselves and the impact our silence has on those to closest to us.

I also enjoyed this book because it takes place in my neighborhood: Rockridge in Oakland and took partic
May 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I loved the comfortable feel of this book. It took place in my hood and had characters from my life. I just found it slow going with not enough plot.
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book resonated with me so deeply. The main character is about to get married to her long time partner when same-sex marriage isn’t even fully recognized yet. She misses her grandmother and wishes she could have her blessing, but feels like she could never have asked her grandmother for her blessing anyway because she wouldn’t have given it. She feels like her life couldn’t begin until after her grandmother was gone. She finds a friend in a Holocaust survivor who turns out to have a long los ...more
Jul 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I suppose there are people who live entirely in the present, as if the past were not available at the merest gesture, the small familiar touch, but I had never been one of them. If you’ve ever ridden one of those black coaches through the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, you’ve seen the specters that appear when your coach passes by the mirror: a third figure between you and your friend, a Victorian ghost, laughing and smiling, someone you otherwise can’t see between you, but only when you look i ...more
Cristina Reid
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As the survivor's stories are told Gay women also find their way to acceptance in a time where there was still so much unacceptance. There is a consciousness in this story and in a rather interesting way each become intertwined when it is found that before the war a survivor had such a relationship and in freedom one married and was unable to express her own identity quietly keeping the love letters.
I am sure that this helped the person listening to survivor stories to give it ago when I saw the
Katherine Reiter
Aug 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lesbian-fiction
This has to be one of the most complete, multilayered stories I've ever read. The grace with which we're introduced to the characters and settings allows for not a single dull moment in this book. The exploration of early-2000's gay marriage was very interesting to me. The characters feel truly alive, not bound to a single straight-line plot, but growing and breathing even in the paragraphs where they are not mentioned. Remarkable and thought-provoking!
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
This book had way too many minor characters, and nobody seemed to quite have a personality. Except Fiona, who was way too annoying to be a plausible best friend. A lot of minor sub-plots as well, like the main character removing a wart on her foot!! I liked the main idea of it - a Jewish lesbian who wishes she could tell her grandmother about her upcoming marriage, and finds a substitute in an elderly (possibly lesbian) Holocaust survivor. But the story never quite made sense.
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookclub
Ok. I liked this book. It was well written. In normal times it would probably be a 3 star read for me.

But sometimes personal coincidences collide with a book in a perfect way. I was soo delighted to be able to see/read the small print paperback from the library after almost a year where seeing/reading have not been working for me. 5 stars for the return to one of my first loves.
Bibi Silvas
3.5 stars
Amy Andrews
May 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
For some reason this average length novel took me a million years to read. A really interesting premise but by half way I could sense that it was going to stay kind of mundane.
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A Tennessee Williams Scholar at the 2017 Sewanee Writers' Conference, Hilary Zaid is also an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Tin House Writers' Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online venues including Lilith Magazine, The Southwest Review, The Utne Reader, CALYX, The Santa Monica Review, and The Tahoma Literary Review and has been twice nominated for th ...more
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“I took a deep breath. The words to a Hebrew song popped into my mind: "Kol ha'olam kulo/Gesher tsar me'od." The whole world is a very narrow bridge.... And the main thing is, not to be afraid.” 2 likes
“Our throats closed over our grief; open them, and what shrill, animal keening would have issued forth, what primitive howl of pain?” 1 likes
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