What is the relationship between memory, history, and truth? How do these three distinct ways of perceiving the world interact with each other? What happens when they intertwine, fold together and double back over one another?
The result, as brought to us by Miranda Richmond Mouillot, is an intense, graceful, and luminous memoir about a family secret that had cast a shadow over her life and those of her loved ones – a shadow that remained long and dark until she found a way to give it substance and pull it headlong into the light.
Filled with a complex mixture of aching sadness and abundant joy, A Fifty-Year Silence follows the author’s very personal journey across two continents and three generations. Mouillot is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and she describes this fact of her life in simple yet heartbreaking words: “I’d grown up in a universe that revolved around an unspoken maxim: everything can fall apart.” That “everything” included her parents’ marriage and that of her grandparents, Anna and Armand, whose lives she attempts to reconstruct in this elegant and compelling book – a work that is equal parts detective story, family history and personal journey. Plumbing the depths of a hidden story no one in the family will talk about, Mouillot fills every chapter with suspense as she breaks the silence that surrounds an old yet enduring family secret.
Although the book is a memoir, it reads like a novel, complete with a twisting, turning plot. Mouillot’s grandparents, Anna and Armand, survived the Holocaust by escaping Nazi-occupied France and finding shelter in a series of Swiss refugee camps. After the war they bought an old stone house in the South of France, living there for the next five years with their daughter (Mouillot’s mother) and son until Anna suddenly packed up and left Armand, taking both children with her and never returning.
What divided her grandparents? What mysterious wound tore the family apart? Mouillot, growing up in Asheville, NC, loved both Anna and Armand, though the two had lived on different continents — and without speaking — for forty years. Now she sets off to solve the mystery of their estrangement, hoping to discover the past and transform it into a rooted sense of identity for herself.
Luckily for readers of Holocaust memoir, Mouillot’s quest for self-discovery has produced a work that transcends both time and space, illuminating a fuller understanding of the ways in which the Holocaust casts its darkness onto the generations and providing insight into the healing power of knowing precisely where we come from, and why.
Linda F. Burghardt is a New York-based journalist and author who has contributed commentary, breaking news, and features to major newspapers across the U.S., in addition to having three non-fiction books published. She writes frequently on Jewish topics and is now serving as Scholar-in-Residence at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.