Wednesday, December 14, 2016
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. -- William Morrow
Last night, we met to discuss FORTY AUTUMNS: A FAMILY'S STORY OF COURAGE AND SURVIVAL ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BERLIN WALL by Nina Willner. I was really excited to read a memoir because we almost always read women's fiction, but it was an interesting choice for our December (i.e. holiday!) meeting.
I actually hosted this month's meeting, and I was determined that we would at least try to discuss the book. Eight of us attended and I think only a few of us read the entire book. I don't think that's a slight against the book because those of us who finished it really enjoyed it. I think it's more a testament to the hectic nature of the season!
I am proud to say that we did discuss the book -- mainly to acknowledge how surprised we were by what occurred to this family. Most of us are old enough to remember the Berlin Wall and especially when it came down; however, I don't think any of us understood just how horrific it was to families in Germany. I pulled out the discussion questions (all twenty of them!), and we did go through a few of them. We found that we spent more time discussion the different ways the family members handled the events, and we were very impressed with the strength of Oma and Opa.
And since it was our Christmas book club meeting, we had our annual book swap. We run this like a White Elephant or Yankee Swap with everyone getting to open a new or used book or having the opportunity to steal a book someone else already opened. Unfortunately, this year there was no stealing -- boo. I think that's because I'm the only one who ever steals and I was happy with my Dennis Lehane novel THE GIVEN DAY.
We did have a bit of an unusual swap this year because one of our newest members decided to provide a little excitement to the swap. As were all opening the books, I noticed that she was very red and giggling quite a bit, but heck, that's just Sharon! Well much to our amazement, she wrapped a very dirty book... with actual photos! Let's just put it this way, the "Better than Sex Cake" that I made for dessert took on any entirely new meaning! We had quite a few laughs (and even some snorts from Sharon herself!), and Sharon is still chuckling because the rest of us took the swap seriously. Imagine that? A book club that actually took a book swap seriously!
OUR HEARTS WILL BURN US DOWN by Anne Valente. This book looks like a powerful read, and Refinery29 has already called it a Best Read for October and Ploughshares has said it's one of the "Most Necessary Books for the End of 2016." My only concern is that I'm not sure everyone will want to read such a serious book about grief and loss over the holidays, but we'll see!
Summary: The lives of four teenagers are capsized by a shocking school shooting and its aftermath in this powerful debut novel, a coming-of-age story with the haunting power of Station Eleven and the bittersweet poignancy of Everything I Never Told You.
As members of the yearbook committee, Nick, Zola, Matt, and Christina are eager to capture all the memorable moments of their junior year at Lewis and Clark High School—the plays and football games, dances and fund-drives, teachers and classes that are the epicenter of their teenage lives. But how do you document a horrific tragedy—a deadly school shooting by a classmate?
Struggling to comprehend this cataclysmic event—and propelled by a sense of responsibility to the town, their parents, and their school—these four "lucky" survivors vow to honor the memories of those lost, and also, the memories forgotten in the shadow of violence. But the shooting is only the first inexplicable trauma to rock their small suburban St. Louis town. A series of mysterious house fires have hit the families of the victims one by one, pushing the grieving town to the edge.
Nick, the son of the lead detective investigating the events, plunges into the case on his own, scouring the Internet to uncover what could cause a fire with no evident starting point. As their friend pulls farther away, Matt and Christina battle to save damaged relationships, while Zola fights to keep herself together.
A story of grief, community, and family, of the search for understanding and normalcy in the wake of devastating loss, Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down explores profound questions about resiliency, memory, and recovery that brilliantly illuminate the deepest recesses of the human heart. -- William Morrow