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

Author(s): Nina Willner


When Nina's mother Hanna was just twenty years old, she escaped to West Germany with nothing more than a small satchel and the clothes on her back. It was the dawn of the Cold War. Hanna left her parents, siblings and everything she had ever known behind. Forty Autumns traces the dramatic lives of the family on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Hanna eventually moved to America where she gave birth to Nina and her brother. Years after Hanna's brave escape to the West, Nina found herself working as an Army Intelligence officer in Berlin, leading secret operations just miles away from the family her mother left behind all those years ago. Rich in drama and beautifully evocative, Nina takes us deep into the tumultuous and stifling world of East Germany under Communist rule, revealing both the cruel reality her relatives endured and her own experiences as an intelligence officer. Forty Autumns is an incredible story that perfectly captures what it was like to live in a world divided in two.


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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 ... 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. Publishers Weekly Thoughtful and informative, Willner's book not only offers a personal view of the traumatic effects of German partition. It also celebrates the enduring resilience of the human spirit. A poignant and engrossing, occasionally harrowing, family memoir. Kirkus Review

Nina Willner is a former US Army Intelligence Officer who served in Berlin during the Cold War. Following a career in intelligence, Nina worked in eastern Europe promoting human rights, education and the rule of law for the US State Department, NGOs and a variety of charities. She currently lives in Istanbul, Turkey. Forty Autumns is her first book.

General Fields

  • : 9781408707272
  • : Little, Brown Book Group Limited
  • : Sphere
  • : August 2016
  • : 234mm X 153mm
  • : United Kingdom
  • : October 2016
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : 16pp plate section
  • : 400
  • : 943.155087092
  • : 1
  • : Paperback
  • : Nina Willner