• Forty Autumns

  • A Family's Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall
  • By: Nina Willner
  • Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
  • Length: 10 hrs and 4 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (740 ratings)

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Forty Autumns  By  cover art

Forty Autumns

By: Nina Willner
Narrated by: Cassandra Campbell
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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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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

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.

5 people found this helpful

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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.

4 people found this helpful

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As a 70 plus my childhood parallels this time period

Thanks so much for this up close and heartfelt trip through this important part of WORLD history

Especially important with what is happening in our country at this time

3 people found this helpful

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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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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.

3 people found this helpful

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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.

3 people found this helpful

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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.

2 people found this helpful

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Insightful, interesting, and well-researched

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

2 people found this helpful

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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.

2 people found this helpful

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Her-story at its best!

Well-written, well-read, and well-researched! The story is amazing in itself, but the historical details and perspectives interwoven make this book brilliant!

1 person found this helpful

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  • stuart
  • 11-28-16

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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  • PAUL C.
  • 08-06-17

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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  • Emily
  • 06-24-22

Informative and emotional

I couldn't stop listening to this fascinating story. Touching and educational listening to the story of a family separated for so long.

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  • Londongayle
  • 01-14-21

Highly recommend

I would like to thank the narrator for her excellent performance of a brilliant book.
The story of the family from East Germany was compelling, and the gentle explanations of historical events flowed so well into the timeline. What an amazing family! I felt that I was with them on their journeys.

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  • Alison
  • 10-29-20

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
  • 02-23-19

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
  • 07-31-18

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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  • Carol
  • 08-10-19

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