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THE NIGHT TRAVELERS by Armando Lucas Correa


by Armando Lucas Correa

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2023
ISBN: 978-1-501-18798-8
Publisher: Atria

A bloodline of stubborn, courageous women navigates the horrors of World War II and its rippling aftereffects.

“Lilith,” Ally Keller murmurs reverently at first sight of her newborn daughter, the product of her brief but intense union with a Black German musician. “Her name means light.” And despite the fact that Ally—a freethinking, progressive German writer—must confine Lilith’s childhood within the increasingly oppressive, racist strictures of Nazi Germany, where Lilith is considered a mischling (a derogatory term for people of mixed-race ancestry), she proves an unquestionable beacon in Ally’s life. A preternaturally intelligent girl who learns the Pythagorean theorem by age 5 and begins studying Shakespeare at 6, Lilith grows up in relative stability, reading Ally’s poetry and imbibing the wisdom of Herr Professor (a Jewish literature scholar driven from his university). Lilith and her mother obsessively follow via radio the groundbreaking career of Jesse Owens, whose meteoric rise to greatness symbolizes the freedom that Lilith craves; meanwhile, in Nazi Germany, they’re able to venture outside only at night or during the rain, else risking harassment. As the Nuremberg Laws and Kristallnacht incite increasing chaos and S.S. raids worsen, Lilith appears before the German commission for racial purity, which labels her “inferior,” risking sterilization by the state. What follows is Ally’s immensely painful choice to send Lilith away on a departing ship, accompanied only by the Herzogs, a fleeing Jewish couple who become Lilith’s de facto parents. After what Lilith terms her “first death,” she must begin an entirely new life in Cuba, constantly aware of the way the past peeks through the cracks of her new reality—and unsure of her mother’s fate. In narrative sections that track the lives of Lilith’s daughter and other female descendants, the women grapple with the deep scars wrought by World War II along with motherhood, racism, and survivor’s guilt; the novel carefully investigates factors that shape identity along with the concept of unresolved memory. Correa’s scope here is impressive—the narrative sections span Havana to Berlin and 1931 to 2015—though the breadth sometimes lends the sense of an overstretched narrative, reducing dramatic intensity. Its characters, though, are complex and singular; their interiors are richly drawn and illustrate how history unfolds in increasingly complex ways within individual psyches despite passing time and space. Readers will appreciate the emotional payoff and emerge from the novel with a satisfying sense of catharsis even if it takes a while to achieve.

A worthwhile story with some excess material.