My Book World
Willner, Nina. Forty Autumns: A Family’s
Story of Courage and Survival on Both
Sides of the Berlin Wall. New York:
Just under twenty-one, young Hanna flees East Germany to pursue a life of freedom in the West, and she must do it twice to succeed. The second escape, however, sticks, and she makes a life in America.
Her daughter, Nina, is the author of this amazing and absorbing account of what the division of Germany following World War II did to Hanna’s family. Under the heavy thumb of Erich Honecker, the East German regime was perhaps more repressive than its mother, the Soviet Union.
This forty-year tale follows the lives of those left in East Germany, as well as the life of Hanna and her children in America. Daughter Nina winds up working for the US government in West Germany and comes very close to where her family lives, but she is unable to visit with them or even let them know she is present.
Hanna’s father, Opa, is a respected and revered school teacher in the town where they live, but eventually he is exiled to a small village because he will not fully support the Communist line. His children who remain in East Germany, however, become somewhat more compliant, although none of them ever joins the Communist party—which does inhibit their success.
Wellner’s story of how the family finally unites after forty autumns is more than touching; it is the richest kind of poignancy.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-13 New Jersey
MY JOURNEY OF STATES is a series in which I relate my sixty-year quest to visit all fifty states in the U.S. In each post I tell of my relationship to that state, whether brief or long, highlighting important personal events. I include the year of each state's entry into the union and related celebrations. I hope you enjoy my journey as much as I have. This is the twelfth post of fifty.
Virginia (1957, 1959, 1963, 1968, 1973, 1974, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1999, 2010)
In Northern Virginia, where my aunt and uncle lived in Fairfax County, it was difficult to separate, at times, Washington DC from the southern nature of its surroundings. The lilting dialects, the Georgian colonial architecture with red bricks and white columns. Even the White House is a southern building. And yet my aunt and uncle were New Yorkers; it seemed like an odd fit. In the dozen times that I’ve been to Washington, I’ve viewed multiple sights multiple times: The Smithsonian Institution (including the Air and Space Museum located a thirty-minute cab ride from DC in Fairfax County), the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s, the World War II Memorial, The Vietnam Memorial (I had previously looked up the address of our Wichita neighbor, R. E. Jenkins, who’d been killed at nineteen, as well as the man for who I’d worn a steel MIA bracelet, Stephen Adams, Iowa), Georgetown, Mt. Vernon, the home of former president, Chester A. Arthur (a bed and breakfast where we stayed in 2010), on Logan Circle. The closest I came to the White House was Pennsylvania Avenue, where I took an iPhone picture through the wrought iron fence. I’ve seen both of Thomas Jefferson’s homes, Monticello and the one in western Virginia, Poplar Forest, a three-day trip by horse cart for its original owner. I’ve strolled through the quad at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where the Jeffersonian buildings provide space for qualified students to live. ¶ Virginia is tenth of the original colonies, established in 1788.
If you missed earlier My Journey of States posts, please click on a link:
NEXT TIME: My Book World
Richard Jespers is a writer living in Lubbock, Texas, USA.
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