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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 listeners say about Forty Autumns

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A must read for all ages

A great book, read it in a day . I have been to Berlin twice and love the city so a great time to read it upon my recent return. An amazing story of love and courage congratulations Nina Willner

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  • AvidReader
  • 24-03-2019

Fascinating

I knew a bit of the East Germans’ suffering during the Cold War - this book opened my eyes to the depth of it and using the example of her family’s experiences provides a glimpse into the depth of suffering of the overall East German population. Well told!

3 people found this helpful

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  • Kay
  • 18-06-2018

Magnificient Story

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

3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Mary Aalgaard
  • 18-01-2018

Excellent look into the divided Germanys

We read this book for book club, and I look forward to the discussion. Willner gives us a look into the divided Germanys, and the trials and heartache it put on her family. Well researched and full of interesting details. Cassandra Campbell did a wonderful job of narrating this book and giving voice to the author and her family.

3 people found this helpful

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  • grandma
  • 29-06-2017

A memoir of an East German Family that spans forty years

One of the best book that I have ever read. It shows the importance of family and the strength that people have to overcome seemingly unsurmountable challenges. Well written and historically accurate.

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  • Brenda Jones
  • 21-04-2017

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.

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  • Marcia
  • 09-04-2017

Insightful, interesting, and well-researched

Excellent, moving portrayal of this gifted and courageous author and her family. I loved it!

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  • Daryl
  • 13-01-2017

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.

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  • Lisa
  • 10-11-2016

Wonderful Audible BOOK

This book is beautifully written and the narrator is easy to listen to.
You could tell that the author had a great deal of knowledge with the topic and had me looking forward to my afternoon walk with my dog so I could get back into the story.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-04-2017

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!

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  • lindal
  • 24-01-2017

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • stuart
  • 28-11-2016

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.

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  • Alison
  • 29-10-2020

Throughly enjoyed this book.

I learned a lot from this book as well as enjoyed the story and the reading was clear and easy to follow.

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  • Ross McKean
  • 23-02-2019

The best and the worst of humanity

A study of the best and the worst of humanity and of human endurance. Essential reading in today’s world of populism, propaganda and resurgent totalitarianism. Ultimately a story of hope, light, truth and love.

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  • Jo Shap
  • 31-07-2018

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.
  • 06-08-2017

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

1 person found this helpful

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