Paper is White by Hilary Zaid


As Ellen Margolis and her fiancé beat their own early path toward marriage equality, Ellen falls into a clandestine entanglement with a wily Holocaust survivor and a secret search for buried history that very well may disrupt her wedding plans.



A woman’s clandestine entanglement with a wily Holocaust survivor leads to a search for buried history that could very well change her life.

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 entanglement with a wily Holocaust survivor–a woman with more to hide than tell–and a secret search for buried history that threatens to disrupt all of Ellen’s plans. If there is to be a wedding Ellen must decide: How much do you need to share to be true to the one you love? Set in ebullient, 1990s Dot-com era San Francisco, Paper is White is a novel about the gravitational pull of the past and the words we must find to make ourselves whole.

Awards and Honors

2019 Independent Publisher’s (IPPY) Awards, Gold Medal, LGBT+ Fiction

2018 Foreword INDIES Silver in LGBT (Adult Fiction)

2019 Golden Crown Literary Society, Short List in the General Fiction Category

2018 NCIBA, Long List, Fiction Category

“Written across histories as seemingly varied as Lithuania’s Jewish Kovno Ghetto and Queer Nation San Francisco, Paper Is White connects them in a very different sort of adventure novel, where remembering someone you love becomes one of the most radical things you can do. Zaid is fierce, a rebel with a cause, and her breathtaking leaps of imagination make new worlds possible.” —Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night

“Paper is White is a wonderfully tender, inventive exploration of survival, secrets, memory, and love. Zaid’s characters are wholly original and riveting, and this story is funny, moving and necessary; you will love this book.” —Karen E. Bender, National Book Award finalist of Refund

“Hilary Zaid has written a beautiful, heartbreaking book about the stories that haunt us, about the ways silence can wielded as a weapon and ultimately about how love between women can be redemptive.”—Nayomi Munaweera, author of the critically acclaimed novel, Island of a Thousand Mirrors

“One young woman’s late-20th-century search for marriage equality and the Holocaust play off each other in Paper is White, distinct and yet merging worlds, a dialogue of whispers.”—Jane Eaton Hamilton, queer activist and author of Weekend

“Paper is White is a funny, bright novel about the stories we think we need and the stories that turn out to matter more than we could have imagined. I loved being in Hilary Zaid’s world.”—Ramona Ausubel, author of No One is Here Except All of Us and Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty 

“Paper Is White draws you in, word by word, sentence by sentence, until you’re so immersed in its world you can’t stop reading. Exploring the relationship between intimacy and truth-telling, as well as how past secrets complicate present-day commitments, this beautiful novel reveals generations of love.”—Lucy Jane Bledsoe, author of The Evolution of Love

Paper Is White is a beautifully written and emotionally resonant novel, by a writer from whom we can expect to hear much more in the years ahead.  Hilary Zaid is a name you’ll want to remember.  Her book is one you’ll have a hard time putting down.”—Steve Yarbrough, author of The Unmade World

HILARY ZAID is an alumna of the Tin House Writer’s Workshop and the James D. Houston Scholar at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Her short fiction has appeared in print and online publications, including Lilith MagazineThe Utne Reader, Southwest Review and CALYX. Her story “The Dark Between the Stars” is the winner of the 2014 BLOOM Chapbook Prize for Fiction, and her story “For Non-Speakers of the Mother Tongue” is a Pushcart Prize nominee. She holds an AB, summa cum laude, in English & American Literature from Harvard and a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, California, with her spouse and two children.


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