Forty Autumns

Forty Autumns : A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall

4.35 (6,008 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

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.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 416 pages
  • 155 x 231 x 46mm | 703g
  • English
  • images
  • 0062410318
  • 9780062410313
  • 1,075,419

Back cover copy

In this illuminating and deeply moving eyewitness account of history, a former military intelligence officer shares the true story of her family: Americans and East Germans, caught up in a Cold War drama--sisters, mothers, daughters, and cousins separated by the Iron Curtain for forty years, and their miraculous reunion after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Growing up in a provincial country village outside of Berlin, Hanna was encouraged by her schoolteacher father to learn about life beyond their small town and to follow her dreams. "The world is infinitely vast and full of wonder," he told her, fueling young Hanna's imagination. But at the end of World War II, the Soviets took control of the eastern part of Germany and established a repressive communist satellite state--East Germany--which used brutal force and a massive wall to cut off East from West.

Determined to live free, Hanna made a dangerous escape to West Germany. But the price of freedom--leaving behind her parents, her eight siblings, and her home--was heartbreaking. Uprooted, Hanna eventually moved to America, where she settled down with her husband, a U.S. Army officer, and had children of her own, but she never forgot her parents and siblings trapped on the other side of the Berlin Wall.

Throughout the Cold War, the West knew little about East Germany, except that it was a bleak authoritarian state ruled by a communist dictator, controlled by ruthless secret police, and that it was a staging ground for Soviet aggression into the West. Growing up near Washington, D.C., Hanna's daughter, Nina Willner, became the first female U.S. Army intelligence officer to lead sensitive intelligence collection operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Though separated by only a few miles, American Nina and her German relatives--a large family that included her aunt Heidi and her cousin Cordula, a member of the East German Olympic training team--were kept apart for more than four decades by a bitter political war.

Forty Autumns brings into focus these five resolute women who fought to preserve what matters most--three generations whose lives embodied one nation's birth and demise. Nina takes us deep into the tumultuous and terrifying world of East Germany under communist rule, revealing both the harsh reality her relatives endured and her experiences as an intelligence officer running secret operations behind the Berlin Wall that put her life at risk.

Reminiscent of the international bestseller Wild Swans, Forty Autumns is an intimate and beautifully written account of unbending faith, unwavering determination, the enduring power of the human spirit, the constant longing for reunion and unification, and a personal look at a tenuous era that divided a city, a nation, and the world--and continues to haunt us today.
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Review Text

"This book is kind, honest, incredibly well-written, and important, a testament to humanity and courage." LitHub
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Review quote

"Even if you well know the story of the East German sequester, you will be drawn to [Willner's] family story of living through the worst of times."--Manhattan Book Review
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About Nina Willner

Willner, Nina

Nina Willner is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who served in Berlin during the Cold War. 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 U.S. government, nonprofit organizations, and a variety of charities. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey. Forty Autumns is her first book.
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Rating details

6,008 ratings
4.35 out of 5 stars
5 48% (2,901)
4 40% (2,421)
3 10% (594)
2 1% (72)
1 0% (20)
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