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Book Review: Reflections from Gavea by Marianne Campagna

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When I finished reading Reflections from Gavea, all I could think was “WOW! WOW! WOW! What a book!” Encompassed within the story of Marianne Campagna’s personal story of her separation from her father and brother and her reconnection with them is most of the history of the twentieth century and four continents — Europe, Asia, North America, and South America. I have never read a book like this memoir, and the most amazing part is that this epic story is all true.

The story begins when Marianne Campagna’s Chinese father is a student in Germany during the 1930s. As Hitler rises to power, her father falls in love with her mother, and because interracial marriages are forbidden under the Nazi regime, they must flee the country as World War II breaks out. After many months moving around the Mediterranean and searching for a new land to call home, they arrive in China. There Marianne and her brother are born before her parents get a divorce. Marianne’s father receives custody of her brother while she is given into her mother’s custody.

War seems to have marked Marianne’s family, for not long after, the Chinese Revolution takes place. Desperate to leave China, Marianne’s mother marries a Russian prince who resides in China after having been ousted from Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. With her new stepfather and mother, Marianne, still a young child unable fully to understand the events around her, embarks on a ship to Brazil and a new life, leaving behind her father and brother.

Marianne grows up in Gavea, the area surrounding Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil. Her childhood varies from dramatic to colorful moments, but deep in her heart is always the sadness of her separation from her father and brother. Not until she journeys to the United States as a young woman and the United States establishes diplomatic relations with Communist China does Marianne have any hope of locating her lost family. What develops next I’ll leave for the reader to discover.

At times, Reflections from Gavea is a tearjerker; at other times, it is a quiet thoughtful book of longing and loneliness. It is also a vivid historical pageant of the twentieth century. But most importantly, it is the story of one woman determined to find her own identity, her home, and her family amid war, turmoil, and decades of worldwide change. Marianne takes the reader from the Russian Revolution to World War II and from the Chinese Revolution to Brazil’s inflation crisis and finally to a parasailing adventure above Gavea. Numerous personal photos of the people and places mentioned in the book make Marianne’s story spring to life as if the reader is experiencing for himself.

I have not been so moved by a book in years. I have never before had an armchair traveler experience like this one. In reading this book, my faith that there is good in the world was reconfirmed. Despite all the heartache, Marianne is proof that we can come out on top and that the world is full of adventures and possibilities to treasure. If you only read one book this year, it has to be Reflections from Gavea. You might find it stirring up long-forgotten longings within you. I guarantee you will never forget it.

For more information about Marianne Campagna and Reflections from Gavea, visit the author’s website.

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About Tyler Tichelaar

  • Carter Sherline

    I had the good fortune to read the pre-production manuscript of this book as it was being edited and to help with the editing of both the text and the images. She has since removed me from her life but she will always be the woman I love and I will always wish to be with only her. Her memoir tells a lot about why I love her so much.