The Night Travelers

Last summer, I was excited to learn that Armando Lucas Correa had a new novel on the horizon, The Night Travelers. A few years ago I had picked up his debut novel, The German Girl, and his latest release returns to the same themes of escaping 1930s Germany on the St. Louis, a ship bound for Cuba. This time, however, he delivers a sweeping narrative that follows four generations of women through 90 years of loss and recovery.

Special thanks to the publicists at Simon & Schuster and to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Summary

The Night Travelers is a multi-generational saga of women who live through war and loss. In Germany in the 1930s, Ally Keller must rescue her biracial daughter, Lilith. The only way to get her out of the country is with a Jewish couple as they flee to Cuba. Lilith grows up in Cuba with her new family, but comes of age as the Cuban Revolution takes hold and steals everything she has left. Later, her daughter Nadine makes her way back to Germany, raising a daughter of her own—Luna—after the Berlin Wall has finally come down. Together, Nadine and Luna piece together the fragments of their history, uncovering buried secrets and recovering some hope despite all that’s been torn apart over the past century.

Review

The Night Travelers opens with Ally Keller, a white German woman, as she gives birth to her biracial daughter, Lilith. She is a “mischling,” a “Rhineland bastard.” Because Lilith is darker, like her Black father—Marcus, who has already been abducted and likely killed—she must be kept in the shadows, away from danger. She and Ally call themselves “night travelers,” because we all look the same in the dark. Lilith is extremely intelligent as a child, but it’s not enough to pass the racist eugenics tests put against her; she is sentenced to be sterilized in Germany’s efforts for “hygienic cleansing.” As tensions rise, Ally knows that the only way to save her daughter is to give her up. Lilith is adopted into new family, the Herzogs, and they flee to Cuba. But while her life in Havana is good for a time, she can’t escape suffering and death, especially as Fidel Castro takes control of the country. History will be repeated, and Lilith will have to send away her own daughter just as Ally had done for her.

From the late 1920s through the 2010s, The Night Travelers draws connections between World War II and the Cuban Revolution, the victims of both, and the long-reaching aftermath both conflicts had on generations to come. It’s complex and well researched, exploring the evils of eugenics, the uneven outcomes for refugees on the St. Louis, Operation Pedro Pan, and the many legal trials against escaped Nazis for crimes against humanity. With such painful themes and backdrops, this is a heavy novel. How much suffering and loss can these characters endure? How many generations must grapple with the trauma? Will they ever again reach a feeling of peace?

The main characters are Ally, Lilith, Nadine, and Luna: four generations of women who navigate war and its effects differently. However, we also get numerous side characters with their own backgrounds and stories. While it can distract from the main story, it also weaves a richer tapestry of the many ways people were affected.

One interesting question The Night Travelers raises is how we perceive and judge others. How can someone be a savior to some people, but also part of the evils committed on a greater scale? Is that person evil because they followed (horrifically cruel) orders? Should or can they be forgiven? Do they deserve to be haunted and punished forever after? There are no clear answers, but some characters get painful ends, deservedly so, depending on your perspective.

I loved the recurring theme of being a “night traveler” and the way Ally’s poetry connects generations. By the time we get to her great-granddaughter Luna, the past is finally being settled. The book’s plot becomes a bit meandering in the middle, but by the end, it comes together beautifully.

Because it’s written at such a distance—four generations over 90 years—The Night Travelers is sweeping rather than intimate. I generally prefer stories that spend more time with one or two characters, allowing the reader to form a deep emotional connection with them. This novel is still emotionally powerful, and may move you to tears, but the focus ultimately lands on the greater, lasting effects of conflict on a family over a century.

Final Thoughts

The Night Travelers is a beautifully written and impactful novel that connects Germany in World War II with the Cuban Revolution and the decades that follow. It’s sweeping but emotional and is sure to appeal to fans of historical fiction. I plan to read Armando Lucas Correa’s first two novels—The German Girl and The Daughter’s Tale—as well as other books about the topics explored here.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Get the Book

You can buy The Night Travelers here – it is available as a hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. It is also available in Spanish as La Viajera Nocturna.

The Night Travelers by Armando Lucas Correa
AudienceAdult
GenreHistorical Fiction; Literary Fiction
SettingGermany; Cuba; United States
Number of Pages368
Format I Readebook (NetGalley)
Original Publication DateJanuary 10, 2023

Official Summary

Four generations of women experience love, loss, war, and hope from the rise of Nazism to the Cuban Revolution and finally, the fall of the Berlin Wall in this sweeping novel from the bestselling author of the “timely must-read” (PeopleThe German Girl.

Berlin, 1931: Ally Keller, a talented young poet, is alone and scared when she gives birth to a mixed-race daughter she names Lilith. As the Nazis rise to power, Ally knows she must keep her baby in the shadows to protect her against Hitler’s deadly ideology of Aryan purity. But as she grows, it becomes more and more difficult to keep Lilith hidden so Ally sets in motion a dangerous and desperate plan to send her daughter across the ocean to safety.

Havana, 1958: Now an adult, Lilith has few memories of her mother or her childhood in Germany. Besides, she’s too excited for her future with her beloved Martin, a Cuban pilot with strong ties to the Batista government. But as the flames of revolution ignite, Lilith and her newborn daughter, Nadine, find themselves at a terrifying crossroads.

Berlin, 1988: As a scientist in Berlin, Nadine is dedicated to ensuring the dignity of the remains of all those who were murdered by the Nazis. Yet she has spent her entire lifetime avoiding the truth about her own family’s history. It takes her daughter, Luna, to encourage Nadine to uncover the truth about the choices her mother and grandmother made to ensure the survival of their children. And it will fall to Luna to come to terms with a shocking betrayal that changes everything she thought she knew about her family’s past.

Separated by time but united by sacrifice, four women embark on journeys of self-discovery and find themselves to be living testaments to the power of motherly love.

About the Author

Armando Lucas Correa - Credit Hector Torres

Credit: Hector Torres

Armando Lucas Correa is a Cuban writer, journalist and editor who resides in New York. His first novel, The German Girl  (Atria Books, Simon & Schuster), is an international bestseller that has been translated to sixteen languages and published in more than thirty countries. His second novel,  The Daughter’s Tale (Atria Books, Simon & Schuster) was published on May 7, 2019. The Night Travelers will be published January 10th, 2023.

More Books by Armando Lucas Correa

Armando Lucas Correa - The German Girl
Armando Lucas Correa - The Daughter's Tale
Armando Lucas Correa - In Search of Emma- How We Created Our Family

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