Book Review: A Fifty-Year Silence by Miranda Richmond

A young woman moves across an ocean to uncover the truth about her grandparents' mysterious estrangement and pieces together the extraordinary story of their wartime experiences

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.

Guys, this is my first stab at non-fiction. And I am so, so surprised I ‘loved, loved’ it that much, I’d be urging you all to go buy it. I mean, I would have been urging you all to go buy it already (as if you had a choice!), but I didn’t think I’d love it that much. So my review:

First of all, I loved the whole reason that motivated this story. Love, War and a place to call home during times where displacement to avoid death was as much as an in-thing as property-scouting in LA (in case you end up becoming a reality TV star). A granddaughter investigating the reason her grandparents split up for fifty years and never spoke to each other! Never spoke of their love with each other, never spoke of the reasons of their separation. A well-lettered couple who always put down records of their lives in a journal during the times of the Holocaust, but then, there’s a huge gap about how they met, how they fell in love, why the woman packed up all her possessions including the children and just left. I figure stuff like this are what non-fiction books are made of. Very intriguing and brow-knitting material. A star to the storyline.──

I loved the whole presentation of this work. A story in which the end is already known to the reader (though not your cheesy romantic comedy!), a start that’s very hard to decipher, and an even more confusing, puzzling middle. The whole ending is they split up without seeing or speaking to each other for fifty years. But, was it a happy marriage or one filled with terrible memories? Did they marry out of love or forced together by circumstances of the war (a ‘you only live once’ moment)? Where did their love story all start from? And where did it all end at? Most importantly, what did the middle of this love story entail? Miranda Richmond presents a story that has huge gaps from start to finish. Her duty to connect the dots rifling through old journals of her grandparents, asking her reticent grandparents questions about this separation, looking through old Holocaust records to put their stories together when the parties involved were not being cooperative enough. More discovery leads nowhere or anywhere, a research so involving our researcher finds herself being accused by friends and family of having her purpose in life mistaken. ── ★★

There’s enough suspense to keep you glued to this book. With a grandmother whose evasiveness would sometimes get you clenching your teeth in annoyance or happy to be learning a lot about these moments that shook the world, a grandfather who flies into rage anytime word of his ex-wife is mentioned, and their (love) story which holds much prominence in history, how could you not be glued to your seat? I read it all in two days, twitching nervously in my seat for hours on end.── ★★★

The two main characters: the grandparents, were lovely. They had so much personality it was such an amazing experience reading about the adventures(?) of two well-lettered jews during such dark times in history. You would love Anna, the grandmother, who was carefree in her days before the war, whose views on things such as life, wisdom, are enlightening as well as inspiring, whose evasiveness gives her actions a whole mysterious nature. You would also adore, Armand, who is so much uptight and particular about how things should be done (it’s not a wonder his wife left him), who is so reserved and a total snub to anyone who has high-spirits as his ex-wife, who naturally pushes anyone aside as a weird way of loving them. Their jobs in medicine and linguistics in a time of war is also informative. A star to the main objects of Miranda’s research.── ★★★★

Other characters also make this book a masterpiece. Miranda, herself, whose quest to find out what truly happened with her grandparents which no one in her family had ever bothered themselves with, whose undying curiosity gives this book the depth it has, whose selflessness at the expense of her living is put to much questioning by family and friends. Julien, the man who gave our lead character all her restless soul really needed: a home of her own (with a family that has suffered much displacement). Erna, a grandaunt who played an important part in her grandparent’s (love) story.  A star to these characters.── ★★★★★

My rating is obviously a five out of five stars (5/5 stars).

Miranda Richmond’s A Fifty-Year Silence is one of those moving, inspiring, informative books you must purchase about one girl’s quest to find answers everyone is, um, silent about.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good, old, love story set in a treacherous historical background (as the holocaust). Anyone who has had enough of Hitler literature and would want to learn about the ordinary lives of Jewish families and the effect the war had on them. Also any of you, like me, who love sinking into DW TV’s holocaust-styled documentaries, would revere this title so much.

Look out for my interview with Miranda Richmond for a more insightful look into this title.

My work not done here. Off to post my review on Goodreads.

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