In 1948, after surviving World War II by escaping Nazi-occupied France for refugee camps in Switzerland, the author’s grandparents, Anna and Armand, bought an old stone house in a remote, picturesque village in the South of France. Five years later, Anna packed her bags and walked out on Armand, taking the typewriter and their children. Aside from one brief encounter, the two never saw or spoke to each other again, never remarried, and never revealed what had divided them forever.
A Fifty-Year Silence is the deeply involving account of Miranda Richmond Mouillot’s journey to find out what happened between her grandmother, a physician, and her grandfather, an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, who refused to utter his wife’s name aloud after she left him. To discover the roots of their embittered and entrenched silence, Miranda abandons her plans for the future and moves to their stone house, now a crumbling ruin; immerses herself in letters, archival materials, and secondary sources; and teases stories out of her reticent, and declining, grandparents. As she reconstructs how Anna and Armand braved overwhelming odds and how the knowledge her grandfather acquired at Nuremberg destroyed their relationship, Miranda wrestles with the legacy of trauma, the burden of history, and the complexities of memory. She also finds herself learning how not only to survive but to thrive – making a home in the village and falling in love.
With warmth, humor, and rich, evocative details that bring her grandparents’ outsize characters and their daily struggles vividly to life, A Fifty-Year Silence is a heartbreaking, uplifting love story spanning two continents and three generations.
This is unlike any book I’ve ever read about the lives of people affected by the Holocaust. Most books focus on the struggle to survive during WWII, but this one delves into the effect of the war on the lives of people who survived and their descendants.
The mystery behind this book drives it. I felt like I was walking along with the author while she was trying to unravel the mystery of the disintegration of her grandparents marriage. I couldn’t stop reading because I was so curious about finding out what happened. While the ending wasn’t quite what I expected, it did give me some things to think about afterward, which I always enjoy.
I thought the information about the Nuremburg trials was the most interesting part of the book. I enjoyed looking over the pictures of the author’s grandfather in the translators booths. It was sobering to consider the realities of a Jew hearing first-hand testimony of the atrocities his fellow people had experienced and having to translate it in an unemotional manner.
This book would be an interesting read for anyone who enjoys historical non-fiction, particularly post-WWII era.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.