A Fifty Year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

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.

About This Author

I was born and raised in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a little city that’s known to some as the Paris of the South and to others as the Freak Capital of the Nation – I just call it home. I came into this world intolerant of all things institutional, quit school twice, and spent a year in a mournful and drafty boarding house in Switzerland, but ultimately managed to graduate from Asheville High School and then from Harvard College, where I studied History and Literature. I moved to France in 2004 to write A Fifty-Year Silence, intending to stay just a year, but I got sidetracked by the writing process and a stonemason named Julien, and here I still am, living happily ever after, except when the village PTA meetings run too late.

My Thoughts

As a lover of history, I anticipated reading this memoir.  As I turned the pages, I became engulfed in the discovery of bits and pieces of information of the lives of these strong, often stubborn, individuals who dearly loved their granddaughter, the author, Miranda. 

To live fifty years with someone in your life, yet totally ignored by silence, intrigued me.  Why?  What drove them apart? How could the love that conceived marriage and children totally and forever die? Anna and Armand were complex in their youth, and more so in their old age.  As Miranda spent time interviewing them separately, trying to pull information from a man who was beginning to suffer from dementia and a woman who encouraged Miranda to have a relationship with her grandfather, I longed, as the author, to know the answers to these questions. 

Sadly, all of the questions remain unanswered as I closed this book.  All the details of the horrors remained locked up in the characters of Anna and Armand.  The events that led up to their divorce and silence remain just that…..silent. 

Thank you to Crown Publishers, Blogging For Books, and Random House for a copy in exchange for my honest review.