Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Forty Autumns by Nina Willner - #review

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.



For the past month, my younger son has been in Texas helping his paternal grandparents around the house; it is the first time he's been away from the rest of our 5-member family.  I just know I'm going to embarrass him, or me, or probably the both of us in the airport on Friday.

I cannot fathom being away from parents, grandparents and siblings for FORTY YEARS.  Yet this is exactly what the author's mother had to endure.  And her family's story is one of ... many.

Further, this story has special meaning for me because my mother was born in 1923 in Davos, Switzerland, and was a young adult in that small country during WWII and its aftermath, and she and her cousins had many stories to tell.

And Forty Autumns is especially poignant given that the news these days is filled with stories of hate and the things that separate us instead of the things that unite a people or a country.  It seems we haven't learned a lot since 1945.

So I am glad to see stories and memoirs related to that era and the Cold War years being published to show us the human cost of "us vs. them".  Ms. Willner's book is as thrilling as any spy novel, moreso because it gives a reader pause to think ... that these things really happened.  They are still happening.  And it could happen to any one of us and our families.

And, y'all ... a Hollywood movie should be so lucky to have an ending like Forty Autumns.


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.

Find out more about Nina at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


Click the button above to go to the tour page where you will find links to more reviews of Forty Autumns by Nina Willner.  You can also find out how to become a blog host for future book tours while you are there!

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and HarperCollins, publishers, via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.)


  1. This sounds like a must read to me. I am intrigued by your review and the synopsis. That is a LONG time to be separated from family. I don't have children- but at just over 40 years old- I can relate to the amount of time!

    Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. Thanks for checking out my review, Jess! It's funny how time 'contracts' and 'expands' depending on what 'side of the hill' you are on - or if you are waiting for or remembering something.

  2. I can't imagine being separated from my family for 40 years, either! What a fascinating story.

    Thank you for being on this tour!

  3. Marvelous review, and I have heard nothing but good things about this book.

    I can't imagine being separated from family for that long either.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Silver's Reviews