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.

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

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

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: YES!!!!!
Published by: Little, Brown
Year it was published: 2016
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): History – European
Pages: 416

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

6 thoughts on “Forty Autumns by Nina Willner”

  • I added this one to my wish list when Kelly first posted the link and after reading your review, I am so pleased that I did.
    For generations of Germans, since the wall came down, life must never have seemed so good and free, but I always spare a thought for those few countries where oppression is still so prevalent. I am thinking now of the current case of the young Belarusian athlete in Tokyo. She and her husband have both fled to safety, but I see now that their extended families are being threatened by Lukashenko and this thugs. I noticed on this morning’s news that another Belarusian activist, who helped people escape over the border to the Ukraine, has been found dead in that country, so now Lukashenko is reaching out past his own borders – Reminders of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury!!

    • Yes, what happened with the Belarusian athlete is so similar to what happened to athletes in the iron curtain era. This book is a must read, especially as these things are still happening and it is heartbreaking.

  • I am really pleased that you liked this and recommend it so highly. We will discuss it at our book club meeting this coming week, so I’ll be sure to share your thoughts. If you don’t mind, I may send them the link to this post.
    Kelly recently posted…Caption this #1My Profile

    • Yes, send them the link. If you have any questions on something that happened in the book, send me an email. While people’s everyday lives were not exactly the same in East Germany as in Romania, it was identical in all the things that matter.

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