A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France by Miranda Richmond Mouillot
A Fifty-Year Silence is part history, part biography, and part memoir. Mouillot sets out to tell the story of her grandparents, both Holocaust survivors. However, she also realizes during this process the need to find a life of her own free from her family’s past. Once the latter is realized, Mouillot creates an interesting combination memoir/biography. Instead of telling the story chronologically, she starts as a teenager with her first discovery that her grandparents’ relationship was different. From there we see her separate relationship with each grandparent–her flamboyant grandmother and her reserved and meticulous grandfather–over the succeeding years. Coinciding with that, readers see how Mouillot tries to piece together the past and try to figure out why her grandparents fell in love, then refused to speak to each other for more than fifty years. Much of the discovery was helped along with the discovery of a house her grandparents purchased in the south of France and what it adds to the story. There is a reason it is featured in the book’s subtitle!
Mouillot tentatively asks her grandparents questions over the years about their wartime experiences, how they met their one-time spouse, and other aspects of their lives to try to find clues in her journey. Each grandparent bristles when asked about the other, which does not help Mouillot’s cause. However, the American-born Mouillot eventually break through her grandfather’s stern exterior when she begins to live most of her life in Europe, first in a Geneva boarding school across town from her grandfather and again after college to conduct post-graduate research. After her visit to the ruined house in France when she was in boarding school, Mouillot makes the area around it her home while conducting research about both her grandparents and a nearby medieval castle. However, the personal research soon predominates and she focuses in on it as much as possible while her grandparents are still living, though they are in their late 80s to late 90s at that time. She also focuses in on restoring that old house with the help of a friend. During this time, Mouillot makes a starling realization about her grandparents’ relationship and discovers her own love and path in life.
Looking at her grandparents, Anna Muster and Armand Jacoubovitch had an amazing story based on what little Mouillot pieced together using her grandmother’s letters and essays, her questions to her grandfather, and looking at her grandparents’ refugee files. They met while attending college in Strasbourg, France. Anna had traveled there from her native Romania to study medicine and succeeded earning her degree and starting a residency just as the war began to touch their lives. Armand never had the chance to finish his degree. Both were Jewish and fled in advance of the Germans. With luck on their side, they managed to escape at every turn before finding themselves as refugees in Switzerland. There Anna practices medicine in the refugee camps to which she was assigned while Armand was sent to different camps. Eventually, they briefly reunite and Armand also earns an interpreter certificate and from there is assigned to cover the Nuremberg Trials. What Mouillot learned is an amazing story of resilience and survival she they shares with her readers. What I mention above is just an outline the book greatly enhances on.
A Fifty-Year Silence is written in a prose that encourages the reader to slow done and enjoy the text. I cannot explain fully how Mouillot does this, but it adds an extra, enticing and almost magical, effect to the book. The reader will stop, think, and full comprehend what is being told in her grandparent’s story and her own journey. Additionally, the two stories are intricately intertwined. The bits about her grandparents are worked in as conversations or discoveries in the “present” timeline, enhancing the aspect of Mouillot’s journey to discover the past.
This book will be enjoyed by many: those who enjoy true love stories, Holocaust scholars, World War II history buffs, readers of biographies/memoirs, and more. I also foresee it as a future book club discussion group focus for all the above reasons and for its unique depiction of the relationships the author has with her grandparents and others on her journey to past- and self-discovery.
A Fifty-Year Silence releases tomorrow, January 20, 2015.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.