Grandparents who love their only grandchild fiercely, but haven’t spoken since their divorce 50 years ago, incite her urgent question: What happened? As she writes in A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France, Miranda Richmond Mouillot hopes to recreate a fairy tale of love found, and somehow lost, amid the turmoil of World War II. But her grandparents, Armand and Anna, are growing frail and their memories of fleeing Nazi-occupied France are painful.
Anna, who lives in New York, deftly dodges specifics, all the while encouraging her granddaughter to move on and seek a life for herself in the French village where the couple’s abandoned house is sinking into ruin. In Geneva, Armand rages at any mention of his ex-wife, while his granddaughter’s probing questions try to stop his memory from slipping into the shadows of dementia.
Mouillot is haunted by her own nightmares that often pitch her into unexplainable despair, fears that, she learns, are the burden that descendants of the Holocaust must carry. Along with her grandparents’ gradually revealed history come details of horror and heartbreak—allowing her to finally understand her dreams.
Mouillot takes the reader along on her quest to learn what went wrong with her grandparents’ marriage, skillfully interweaving past and present as she tries to restore their ruined home and falls in love herself. Written with an almost poetic transcendence of time, place and memory, this moving memoir chronicles an amazing circle of life. No fairy tale, it is as epic as the times in which Anna and Armand lived and the love they inspired.