Escaping from internment in a Bulgarian labor camp during World War Two, a Jewish man makes a better life for his family in the Amazon.

One of the earliest memories that Licco Hazan retains from his childhood is the assassination attempt on Bulgarian ruler Tsar Boris III, a bombing which destroyed the Sveta Nedelya Cathedral in downtown Sofia in 1925. Licco, a member of a proud Jewish family, traced his origins to Toledo in Spain, five hundred years earlier. His grandfather was the cantor at the Sofia Synagogue, a profession which gave the family their name. Life was not easy for the Hazans at the beginning of the 20th century, nor was it an easy time for Bulgaria. Things would get much harder.

In 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis and officially entered World War II. Under pressure from Germany, the fascists who took control of Bulgaria planned to deport the country’s Jews to the concentration camps in Poland. Bulgarian citizens and clergy rose up in protest, thwarting these plans. Still, Licco Hazan and his brother were rounded up and interned in a labor camp, where they were given back-breaking tasks.

In the novel As Flowers Go by Ilko Minev, Licco escapes from the camp with help from quite an unusual source.  Albert Göring, brother of Luftwaffe commander and leading Nazi Party member Hermann Göring, was a businessman notable for helping Jews and dissidents survive in Germany.  Göring arranges transport to Istanbul, and it is during this journey that Licco meets Berta Michael, a young girl who would become his wife.

As Flowers GoLicco first considers going to Palestine, where there was already a sizeable Bulgarian refugee population, but the British were restricting immigration to the country. Instead, learning that Brazil was expediting visas for engineers and other technicians, Licco and Berta decide to travel there.

What follows is the Hazans’ introduction to the colorful nation of Brazil. Upon arrival in hot and muggy Belém, they naturally head to the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue, where their knowledge of Ladino helps to make friends among members of the community. It is there that Licco learns of the contribution of Moroccan Jews to the Amazon’s development. The instability of life back in Morocco led them to consider Brazil as a new Promised Land.

Brazil was built upon “the principle of a free and unsuppressed miscegenation, the complete equalization of black and white, brown and yellow people”. Licco and Berta choose to be part of this “colorful chaos”, and they joined the “streams of humanity [who] desperately sought to better their lives in the promising Amazon.”

Reading almost like a memoir, As Flowers Go is a family drama which blends true facts with a bit of fiction. The saga of Brazilian author Minev’s own family was the inspiration behind the story. Originally written in Portuguese, and recently published in Bulgaria, As Flowers Go will soon be available in English as well, translated expertly by Diane Grosklaus Whitty.