Schmidt recounts his lifelong quest to understand his father, a journalist who fled Germany on the eve of World War II, in this investigative memoir.
Schmidt’s father, Pascasio Trujillo, was not like other fathers in 1930s Berlin. He didn’t live with Schmidt and his brother, Roni, or their mother, Klara, though his infrequent visits were a source of joy. Schmidt knew that his father had come from La Gomera in the Canary Islands and that he had a mother and sister in Cuba. One day in 1939, Pascasio arrived abruptly at the apartment and said they needed to leave Germany immediately. Klara refused, so Pascasio went without them. “That Friday morning changed me,” remembers Schmidt. “I would search for an answer most of my life. I wanted my father back. Even after a lifetime, I still hear Pascasio tearing down the stairs, two and three steps at a time.” He would encounter his father again, years later, though his search for answers took much longer and crisscrossed the globe, from Hitler’s Berlin to Nazi-occupied Poland to Franco’s Spain, Castro’s Cuba, the border-crossing highways of Central America, the safe haven of Canada, and ultimately to the Canary Islands of Pascasio’s birth. Along the way, Schmidt’s search for his father becomes one for himself as the absence of one man becomes the crucible in which another is forged. Schmidt writes in an elegant, thoughtful prose that captures the author’s quiet but insistent pining for understanding: “In Madrid, I got off the plane and slowly regained my bearings. From Pascasio’s last short letter, I had the impression that he looked forward to seeing me. I was sure he would be curious about my experience meeting his Cuban mother. I was so surprised when he did not ask.” The book is long, and not every chapter is thrilling, but Schmidt provides a first-person account of so many fascinating times and places that it more than makes up for the lulls. The enigma of Pascasio becomes secondary to the experience of viewing major developments of the 20th century through one man’s personal development.
A unique, often marvelous memoir of discovery.