A poignant and engrossing, occasionally harrowing, family memoir.



A former U.S. Army intelligence officer’s story of her East German mother’s flight to the West and of the family she left behind.

Willner was just 5 years old when she first learned that her mother Hanna’s parents lived “behind a curtain” in East Germany. But it would not be until several years later that she would understand that this “curtain” was really a symbol of their political oppression and that Hanna had barely escaped entrapment herself. Her own mother, Oma, had literally pushed her into the arms of the departing American soldiers who had been occupying their hometown. The 17-year-old Hanna soon returned out of concern for her family. But when, after fleeing and returning a second time, she saw how communist ideology was changing her father and destroying the freedom, happiness, and security she had once known, she left, this time barely escaping with her life. Piecing together the story of Hanna’s family from relatives encountered only after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Willner re-creates an at times painful account of how her aunts, uncles, and especially her grandparents survived a brutal East German dictatorship. Though marked as “politically unreliable” due to Hanna's defection, they never gave up hope that one day they would be reunited. However, the price they paid was high. Willner's grandfather became a target of communist officials, who banished him, his wife, and youngest daughter, born after Hanna's third and final escape, to a tiny farming community to prevent the spread of possible dissent and then forced him to undergo “intensive reeducation training” at a mental hospital. Yet through all the suffering, the family managed to stay together and survive by building a “Family Wall” of love and loyalty against the powerful outside forces they could not control. Thoughtful and informative, Willner’s book not only offers a personal view of the traumatic effects of German partition. It also celebrates the enduring resilience of the human spirit.

A poignant and engrossing, occasionally harrowing, family memoir.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-241031-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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