In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family--of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.Read more...
In this illuminating and deeply moving memoir, a former American military intelligence officer goes beyond traditional Cold War espionage tales to tell the true story of her family--of five women separated by the Iron Curtain for more than forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Forty Autumns makes visceral the pain and longing of one family forced to live apart in a world divided by two. At twenty, Hanna escaped from East to West Germany. But the price of freedom--leaving behind her parents, eight siblings, and family home--was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband and had children of her own.
Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna's daughter, Nina Willner became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though only a few miles separated American Nina and her German relatives--grandmother Oma, Aunt Heidi, and cousin, Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team--a bitter political war kept them apart.
In Forty Autumns, Nina recounts her family's story--five ordinary lives buffeted by circumstances beyond their control. She takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer, running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.
A personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city and a nation, and continues to haunt us, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written story of courage, resilience, and love--of five women whose spirits could not be broken, and who fought to preserve what matters most: family.
Forty Autumns is illustrated with dozens of black-and-white and color photographs.
- ISBN-13: 9780062410313
- ISBN-10: 0062410318
- Publisher: William Morrow & Company
- Publish Date: October 2016
- Page Count: 416
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-08-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Willner’s epic memoir traverses three generations of mothers, recounting the tragedy, estrangement, and overwhelming courage of a family torn apart by the ideological division of Germany during the Cold War. Willner, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, weaves familial legends of escape from farmsteads guarded by roving East German border patrols, with tales of international espionage at the 1958 World’s Fair. Her interrogative and unabashed voice explores the painful intersection of national duty and familial responsibilities, as when she describes the first encounter of her maternal grandfather and her father in 1959: “The two shook hands: the tall East German and onetime soldier in the Third Reich meeting his new son-in-law, an Auschwitz and Buchenwald survivor and now a U.S. Army intelligence officer.” Faced with government-sanctioned propaganda and manipulation, readers follow a family of educators led by their daughters as they attempt to navigate “the fabric of East German society began to fray under the yoke of an Orwellian climate of oppression.” Willner’s depiction of the brutal East German regime and the fight of one family to unite is a thrilling and relevant read for historians and casual readers alike. (Oct.)