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October 2, 2016

A Fifty-Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

Jenny javier, A Fifty-Year Silence, June 1How to describe this book? This is about the not-so-saccharine love story of Anna and Armand Jacoubovitch, the author’s grandparents. What could be so terrible that would compel Anna to one day pack her bags, take their two children and the typewriter, leave France (or was it Switzerland?) to move to the US and never to speak of or see her husband  again in the next 50 years? The cause of the chasm was never revealed to the generations that came after. And in an effort to discover the roots of their vitriolic silence, Miranda Richmond Mouillot moves to a remote village in France, to her grandparents’ crumbling stone house.

So reticent are both grandparents that names, dates, and places have to be teased out through years of personal conversations, letters, interviews, online research, and voluminous refugee files. Anna and Armand triumphed over unspeakable odds, having survived World War Two, the Holocaust, and refugee camps. How and why did Anna (a physician) and Armand (an interpreter) at the Nuremberg Trials, decide to part and on such embittered terms?

I had been going over Random House’s fall and spring lists and the title caught and held my attention. My heart started beating faster while reading the synopsis. The very same day I sent for a copy and patiently waited for it to arrive while rejoicing in the fact that I seemed to have had hit literary gold. The book had all the elements that interest me: an autobiographical account set during the World War and  the Holocaust, a main character traveling overseas to carve out an existence for herself in a remote place, a granddaughter racing against time as both grandparents decline and one suffers from memory loss, and above all, a huge family enigma to unravel. I pounced on the book and finished reading it in three nights (smack in the middle of the work week, a few chapters at a time before bedtime).  This is a record for someone who reads several books at the same time and has the tendency to meander.

What can I say? This is one of the most moving stories I’ve ever come across, written in beautiful language. The center of it all is the heartbreaking and uplifting love story that spans continents and generations. In this age and time when most people are prone to over-share and to say something the minute they think of it (the better if it’s splashed across newspaper pages or aired on reality television), Anna and Armand are two outsize characters that represent an age that is all but gone.


A Fifty-Year Silence : on sale January 20, 2015, in hardcover. Available upon order from local bookstores.

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