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, Miranda'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.
In this charming, understated memoir, author and translator Richmond Mouillot finds clues to her past as well as her future in a house her French-Jewish grandparents bought in 1948 in Alba, in the Ard che region of Southern France. Born in 1981 and growing up in Asheville, N.C., Richmond Mouillot was close to her voluble Romanian-born grandmother, Anna, who was a longtime supervising psychiatrist at New York's Rockland State Mental Hospital; yet, when she was young, the author saw very little of her prickly Zurich-born grandfather, Armand, a U.N. translator at the Nuremberg trials and a later resident of Geneva. The brainy pair met in the 1930s as students in Strasbourg and fled to Switzerland to escape the Nazis. They picked grapes, scrounged for food, and were eventually smuggled to safety. They immigrated to New York in 1948 with their two children, but that year Anna left Armand, who had grown emotionally distant after the horrors of war. When she was in college, Richmond Mouillot came to stay periodically at the house in Alba, developing a deep affinity with the place and spending more time with her solitary grandfather in Geneva, even bringing the embittered man back to the rituals of Judaism, as she describes in one moving passage. Her memoir is a wonderful evocation of the way that the Holocaust has haunted many generations.