Under East Germany’s hardline Communist government, the lives of ordinary citizens were bleak. Any neighbor or coworker could be a Stasi informer, and tight family bonds were the only ones that could be trusted. In Forty Autumns, former U.S. Army intelligence officer Nina Willmer describes how the members her mother’s family (her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins) survived from the end of WWII to the collapse of the Berlin wall with their spirits and their dignity still intact. Not that it was ever easy. The family endured long years of separation from beloved oldest daughter Hanna (Nina’s mother), who defected to the West and married an American. Moreover, the tension of going along to get along under the Communist regime gave Willmer’s headmaster grandfather a nervous breakdown. And Willmer’s cousin Cordula had to train at almost a superhuman level to keep her place as a member of East Germany’s elite swim team.
This is a sad, but eye-opening look at everyday lives behind the Iron Curtain. I highly recommend it.
(Reviewed by Amy B.)