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Publisher's Summary

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 40 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 20, 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, DC, 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.

©2016 Nina Willner (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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Simple, Interesting, Informative

This book was easy to follow and easy to understand. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a Freshman in college when the wall came down and enjoyed listening to the differences of lifestyles in East Germany and West Germany. During such repression, it is amazing to see the family stay strong and succeed under those circumstances. Highly recommend.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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SPEECHLESS

My boyfriend surprises me with new books all the time. When I first received this book and read the cover I was excited! I love historical novels! As I began reading it, I was hooked from the first page! I smiled, laughed, and learned so much about strangers whom I have never met before. This family's story is astonishing and fascinating all at the same time. Their dignity, and strong will personalities allowed them to thrive throughout a forty year time span of communism. Something that is unheard of in today's society. Nina not only tells her family story well but she adds so much detail that is comes alive while reading it. To keep it simple I definitely recommend this book! It's a page turner!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Daryl
  • Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
  • 01-13-17

Terrific Book!

I was still a child when the Berlin wall fell. In my innocence, I thought it was sad, that a country ceased to be on the map.
Since then, I've been interested in eastern Europe.
This book describes both the personal and political backdrop to what happened in East Germany, what the reality of life was like, the risk it was to leave...
This book is accessible, readable, and compelling. But there's something disconcerting about the author referring to her grandmother, someone she never met, as her "Oma", and her mother by her first name. And there's something disjointed in the telling in places, where family member disappear and reappear and you almost need a scorecard to keep up with who they are.
Cassandra Campbell is a wonderful narrator, though I'm not certain about her German and Russian pronunciations. Overall, both author and narrator did a wonderful job of telling the reality of life under east German rule.
Well worth your time and credit.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The Cold War from the Other Side

I grew up with the Cold War, hiding under my desk, watching Kruschev pound his shoe on the podium, watching East German athletes as a dominate force in sports. But I didn't know what it was like to be living "on the other side". I have taken my freedom for granted. This is the story of one family and what they went through. But really it is about all those families that persevered through incredible oppression and made it through to the freedom they longed for. Excellent.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Poignant

As I have just returned from visiting Germany, staying with a read Friend in Potsdam, I was hungry for more! "Forty Autumns" filled my appetite with a feast beyond expectation!

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A book you cannot set aside....

A historical learning experience.....one that teaches while opening historical highlights of East and West Berlin. While families became separated, the strong pull of togetherness brings them back together. The importance of parents who were the glue that held the children from near and far together.
A must read!

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Wonderful, sad and hopeful!

The "Iron Curtain" was something we were aware of during my childhood as a baby boomer. I always felt for those who were "trapped" and for those divided families, but this brings it to life. I felt the pain and frustration. (spoiler alert, the wall comes down in the end. haha)The excitement, tempered by fear of again being tricked by the government, really brought home the mental state of those who spent their lives trying to survive by walking on eggshells. this is recent history. It isn't something that won't happen again. We need to remember.

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I Loved This Book From Start to Finish!

This was a wonderfully written and read out loud book. I loved it and could not stop listening. I binged listened on vacation and was spellbound the entire time.

Poignant, enthralling and charming. A simply beautiful little masterpiece of a story. Thanks for sharing with the world.

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Magnificient Story

This book should be the next " Best Movie Of The Year"!
Listen to it!

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Well-researched, well-written, personal, insightfu

What made the experience of listening to Forty Autumns the most enjoyable?

The author did a very nice job of relating her personal journey to explore family heritage from East Germany. Also written & narrated well so it was enjoyable to listen to.

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  • stuart
  • 11-28-16

Great story - couldn't leave it alone

Any additional comments?

I have always been interested in the history of the GDR, but up till now, it was the political reality (e.g. taylor's The Berlin Wall), but this lovely story brings home the personal impact the Wall had. I loved exploring the human side of this part of history, and would recommend it thoroughly.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jo Shap
  • 07-31-18

Outstanding!

Touching on so many levels...
The courage and warmth of the writer and her family members.
The insight into the cruelty is the regime who kept so many families apart
The historical knowledge imparted in such a fascinating way.
A definite must read.

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  • PAUL C.
  • 08-06-17

poor

What disappointed you about Forty Autumns?

tubthumping american propaganda from start to finish, if you want to learn anything about the DDR that you wont find on wikipedia, you will be very very dissapointed

What was most disappointing about Nina Willner’s story?

we learnt nothing of her being an intelligence operative in berlin other than she was allowed in and drove a car around a few times and took some sneeky pictures.The authour didnt get cold qwhen writing this, so wrapped up in the stars and stripes as she is, we did learn that the USSR sent Oswald to kill Kennedy,all athletes in east germany were drug cheats (except her relative of course) and basiaclly the east was overthrown by Nena,Elvis,the beatles , Michael Jackson and doubtless the scorpions.The only saving grace of the book was the epilogue, where at least she toucehd on the reality of the west german takeover in the early 90's , with mass redundancies and wholesale asset stripping.The DDR may have been a failed system but at leat people had a stake in it, The west Germans just took it all away for themselves,

Would you listen to another book narrated by Cassandra Campbell?

yes

What character would you cut from Forty Autumns?

the whole family

Any additional comments?

read a decent book on the DDR not this propaganda