A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France
Miranda Richmond Mouillot
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
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.
From the Hardcover edition.
don’t give a damn about the money!” His face quivered with indignation. We were silent. His face had that washed-out, shipwrecked look again. A year spent scuffing his carpets and dropping crumbs under the dining room table had not made me any less frightened of incurring his wrath. I waited. Finally, he spoke. His voice had lost its anger, and he delivered each word in a strange, even tone. “You know, she was the reason I had to stop coming to your house.” “I’m sorry?” “I could smell her,
don’t have anything to eat.” He looked skeptical. “I’ll show you.” He got up, and we walked to the kitchen. “I see.” There was a silence. “All of this was from the refrigerator?” He counted the trash bags waiting in the vestibule to be carried downstairs. “You’ve really done quite some work, here, Miranda. I feel really guilty.” If I’d been surprised Grandpa would admit to aging, I was downright taken aback that he would voluntarily name anything he was feeling. “It’s not your fault,” I
handed the paper given me in Amélie-les-Bains to the Gendarme who met me. Everyone around viewed me with suspicion. The Gendarme, with a grim smile, informed me that nowhere was a room to be had and I better not camp out. What to do?! I believe it was the village priest, present in the square at the time, who advised me to try the Veuve Flamand. This pertained to a café in a sidestreet whereto I was directed. Below street level, I entered an empty long room, dimly lit, with rows of tables and
the back, enjoining her chauffeur to keep his eyes on the road, and then make the taxi wait while she checked the patient into the hospital. Afterward she’d rush back to the camp to update every baby’s nutritional chart so that the milk kitchen could prepare the correct formulas for the following day. Each baby was fed a carefully tailored combination of barley, oats, corn, rice, and wheat, whose ratios my grandmother would adjust over time. Her staff was given only two cans of Nestlé condensed
I should stay, I caused an explosion in my relationship with Julien, one of the few we’ve ever had. “You can’t take care of everyone forever,” he exclaimed. “Your grandfather, your father, your mother—who’s next? Who will be after that? When is it your turn?” “But they need me.” “I need you, too,” Julien objected. The two of us were sitting in the car, on our way to pick up some MRI scans that had been taken too late to be of any use or interest. “And more important, you need you. What’s it