“The German Girl” by Armando Lucas Correa

Written by Armando Lucas Correa, The German Girl follows the story of Hannah Rosenthal and her family living in Berlin during 1938-39 before embarking on the ill-fated Hamburg-Amerika Linie ship St. Louis with the aim of travelling to Cuba. Throughout the chapter, the author weaves through the story of Anna, Hannah’s great-niece, who is aged 11, trying to understand where she comes from. Both Hannah and Anna only meet when Anna receives a box of photograph negatives from Hannah living in Cuba, prompting Anna and her mother to travel to Cuba.

I read this book in a day quite easily, though I must admit I was quite determined to finish it as quickly as possible. The start isn’t as smooth as I would like with the book bouncing to and from decades with every decade for a large part of the book. Nor is the character development the best. After reading this, I was left wondering more about Anna; we don’t get to learn much about her, other than her father died when her mother was 3 months pregnant with her, Anna is close to her mother – often bringing her coffee in the morning as way of supporting her mother through mental illness. Anna has only one photo of her dad, which she talks to every night, and that Anna likes dogs. But other than that, we don’t know much about Anna – she is a passive character, in which echoes of Hannah can be felt.

Hannah is much the same – a passive character describing the people and events around her. Perhaps then it is apt that Hannah is given a camera and discovers her passion for photography; a hobby that she loses quite quickly after the events surrounding the St. Louis ship. Hannah is the camera that observes the events, taking photos of seemingly mundane every life, but it is a reminder of how important life is.

This book was recommended to me to read, and I’ll be honest, I started for the recommendation but ended up staying for the description of the architecture of Cuba, interwoven with the competing smells of violet, basil, mint and jasmine, as well as the thoughts about displacement, struggles with identity, and the idea of home in a society that doesn’t want you and considers you to be less than human.

The book is based on the true story of the over 900 passengers of the St. Louis ship, which sailed off from Hamburg to Cuba but was refused entry in Cuba, America and Canada. As a result, it was forced to return to Europe – where France, Belgium, Holland and the UK took the passengers. Unfortunately, shortly afterwards war broke out and only those who were settled in the UK survived; the remaining passengers were often killed or sent to concentration camps.

With the current refugee crisis occurring, these thoughts about displacement, identity struggles and hatred got me thinking about the individuals who are fleeing their homes. It made me think of that there are currently girls fleeing from hatred, observing the world and trying to make sense of it all – just like Hannah did.

So, despite the flaws in the writing, “The German Girl” is an interesting read, but it isn’t necessarily one that I would recommend without contemplation. It’s best read within a book club setting where discussions like identity struggles, displacement and hatred can be soundly discussed.




The Pilgrimage

“We always have a tendency to see those things that do not exist and to be blind to the great lessons that are right there before our eyes.” – Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

I recently (re)read Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage and, just like the time I read it for the first time when I was 17, Coelho’s writing – the depth, the colour, the honesty – blew me away (again). Unlike the time I read it at 17, the book’s message resonated a lot deeper this time. Even the way Coelho structured the book, basing each chapter on a single theme or message, impacted me in terms of my writing. I can feel how this book has inspired to write each letter based on a singular theme or lesson.

What impacted me the most was Coelho’s infusion of small wisdom about life, his insights on living a meaningful life, all the whilst weaving an adventure story. Put simply, The Pilgrimage is about Coelho’s trials as he journeys along the Camino de Santiago alongside his mentor, Petrus. Yet, Coelho’s writing provokes a compelling, deep tale of the search for meaning, and for a broader view on life.

The book taught me that every little encounter has a purpose, a meaning. The book taught me that we all yearn to find a truth, a meaning, a purpose. We think that it is all individually centred, but I’ve come to the conclusion that our purpose and meaning are all interconnected. People always arrive at the right time where someone awaits them.

“We always know which is the best road to follow, but we follow only the road that we have become accustomed to.”  ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

“The ship is safest when it’s in port, but that’s not what ships were built for.” ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

Sprinkled throughout the book were gentle reminders to take the step past the comfort zone and meet the challenge. Just like the quote above, ships weren’t built for staying in port. They were made for exploring and travelling in the unpredictable ocean. We all know the path we should take, yet we stay on the path that we are used to.

“When in doubt, just take the next small step.” – Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.

In reflecting on The Pilgrimage, I can feel myself being more confident in simply taking the next step, even when I am surrounded in this quagmire of doubt about where I want this blog to go, what I want to write about. I don’t know where this blog will go, but I do know that the best thing for me to do, is to simply take a step. Focus on the path around me, because it is often the path that teaches us what we need to know and in doing so, enriching our lives.

But before I sign off, I want to leave with one quote that has resonated the most with me whilst I was reading this book.

“Why be fearful of saying no to someone or of leaving something undone when the most important thing of all was to enjoy life fully?” ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage.



PS: In writing this blog post, I have since realised that Paulo Coelho has become one of my favourite authors and that I have been remiss in not reading more of his work. Do you have a Paulo Coelho book I should read? Let me know in a comment below xx