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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of Forty Autumns by Nina Willner

ICYMI: Forty Autumns offers fascinating, wonderfully detailed perspectives in a rich, layered family memoir that reads like fiction.

The subtitle of Willner's Forty Autumns is A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall, and her memoir details the former American intelligence officer's true story of her family during the Cold War.

Nina's mother Hanna fled from East to West Germany in a harrowing escape at age twenty. While yearning to see her eight siblings and parents again, Hanna eventually settled in the United States--an ocean away from her family, but a whole world apart in terms of freedom, living conditions, and opportunity.

Hanna raised a family in the United States. And in an intriguing turnabout within the family, her daughter Nina, the author of this book, became the first female Army Intelligence Officer to lead intelligence operations in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War, spying in a more oppressive, dangerous East Germany than the one her mother had so desperately run from decades earlier.

The book's stories are largely set within an increasingly isolated East Germany that relentlessly persecutes its citizens behind the Wall, but they also follow Nina in the United States and as she spies for the United States government in West Berlin.

The book's many moving parts and family characters are fluidly shaped into compelling reading by Willner, and the pacing and tone are wonderful. I thought it read like fiction. Forty Autumns offers fascinating, wonderfully detailed perspectives in this rich, layered family memoir.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

For more nonfiction spy stories about the Cold War, check out two great books by Ben McIntyre, the gripping Agent Sonya and a book I loved even more, The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War.

For historical fiction about female spies, you might want to check out the Greedy Reading List Six Books about Brave Female Spies.


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