Forty Autumns is a true story of a family first caught behind East German lines after WWII, then separated by the new country's boundaries. The author, Nina Willner, is the daughter of Hanna, who escaped East Germany after multiple tries, then--with one exception--didn't see them for 40 years.
Willner herself has an interesting backstory, in that she became a U.S. Army intelligence officer and ended up serving in Berlin during the Cold War. She was quite aware that she had family there, but it wasn't even remotely safe for her to try and find them. And when I say safe, I mean it wasn't safe for her, nor was it safe for the East German family members.
The story is told in short segments, some of which focus on the experiences of the family members left behind in East Germany, some on Hanna's life outside of East Germany, some on Nina's life as an intelligence officer, and some general history of the time, to give more context and scope on what was happening. It's a mostly successful approach, although towards the end I found myself wearying of the political explanations and just wanted to get to the part where East Germany dissolves and the family could finally meet again. There was also a long stretch involving Hanna's niece, Cordula, who became an East German athlete during the highly competitive sporting years, when sports were all that East Germany had to brag about. But Cordula's sporting adventures, while numerous, were overall not that interesting and could have been shortened.
But the other parts of the book were riveting. From the German women waiting for their husbands and sons to come home from WWII in defeat, to learning their small town has been put under Soviet control, to the ever-tightening noose around their necks as the East German government became totalitarian, makes for tense, can't-turn-pages-fast-enough reading. The misery of food shortages, the fears that neighbors were informants, that not looking interested enough at a military parade could end a career--Willner tells these stories straightforwardly and frighteningly. Highly recommended.