Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
Forty Autumns by Nina Willner – A family’s story of courage and survival on both sides of the Berlin Wall – was recommended by Kelly. I thank her for telling me about this wonderful book. I loved it, it is such a heartbreaking but beautiful story.
Nina, the author, wrote about her family. Her mother Hanna escaped East Germany, the rest of her family remained and lived there until the fall of the Berlin wall. Nina is a former American military intelligence officer and she worked in espionage during the Cold War.
Hanna was twenty when she escaped from East Germany. She would be spending the following 40 years without seeing most of her siblings, rarely receiving letters from them, and seeing her mother twice and her father once. She met a Holocaust survivor, they married, and moved to America. Nina’s story is wonderful on its own, as she was the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead sensitive intelligence operations in East Berlin. She worked a few miles from her relatives, but never being able to contact them. Cordula, her cousin, was training a few miles in East Berlin while Nina was working in West Berlin. How heartbreaking is that?
The book has lots of lovely black-and-white and colour photographs that bring the story to life, offering a vivid account of their lives.
As for the life under the Iron Curtain, it was so realistically presented. I am wondering if people who read this book but never experienced life under communist rule can really appreciate the horrors of everyday life. For example Oma, Hanna’s mother, goes to buy dairy on ration and the shop keeper offers her some eggs; she could not trust the shop keeper and refused the eggs even though the food was scarce. The family sang Christmas songs, but in low voice so the neighbours couldn’t hear them and report them to the Stasi.
What happened at the border, what her cousin Cordula had to go through to be accepted in the Olympic team, how they were kept while in Italy, the constant fear that someone can say something to somebody and they could end up in prison, the need to join the party… every single thing she mentioned was real. Even what happens to Oma in the train, that is something similar to what a member of my family went through. A must read without any doubt.
Forty Autumns by Nina Willner
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My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: YES!!!!!
Published by: Little, Brown
Year it was published: 2016
Genre(s): History – European
About the author: Nina Willner is a former US intelligence officer who served in Berlin during the Cold War where she ran classified missions in East Berlin. Following a career in intelligence, Nina worked in Moscow, Minsk and Prague promoting human rights, children’s causes and the rule of law for the US Government, nonprofits and a variety of charities. She currently lives in Washington, DC and Istanbul, Turkey. FORTY AUTUMNS is her first book. Her next book, another narrative nonfiction, is currently in production.
Website & Social Media Links: ninawillner