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The Night Traveler

A Novel

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About The Book

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” (People) The 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.

“A stunning multigenerational story” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), The Night Traveler reveals the power of self-discovery and motherly love.

Excerpt

Chapter One: Berlin, March 1931 1 Berlin, March 1931
The night Lilith was born, winter storms raged in the midst of spring.

Windows closed. Curtains drawn. Ally Keller writhed in pain on the damp sheets. The midwife clutched Ally’s ankles.

“This time it’s coming.”

After the contraction, the very last one, her life would change. Marcus, Ally thought. She wanted to cry out his name.

Marcus couldn’t answer her. He was far away. The only contact they had now was the occasional letter. Ally had started to forget his scent. Even his face had faded into darkness for a moment. She looked down at herself on the bed as though she were some other woman, as though the body in labor wasn’t her own.

“Marcus,” she said aloud, her mind increasingly restless.

After everything they’d been through together, after all they’d said and shared, Marcus had become a shadow to her. Their child would grow up without a father. Perhaps her father had never really wanted her after all. Perhaps this was always meant to be her daughter’s destiny. What right did she have to interfere?

The night Lilith was born, Ally thought of her own mother. She couldn’t recall a single lullaby, an embrace, a kiss. She had spent her childhood surrounded by tutors, perfecting her handwriting and use of language, learning new vocabulary words and proper grammatical constructions. Numbers were a nightmare, science was dull, and geography left her disoriented. All she cared about was escaping into the make-believe stories that led her on journeys back in time.

“Join us in the real world, would you?” her mother would say. “Life isn’t a fairy tale.”

Her mother let her go her own way. She had sensed what Ally’s life would be, and how powerless she was to stop it. Given the direction Germany was heading, she knew that her rebellious, headstrong daughter was a lost cause. With hindsight, Ally could see her mother had been right all along.

“You’re falling asleep.” The midwife’s agitated voice interrupted her thoughts, her hands stained with a yellowish liquid. “You need to concentrate if you want to get this over with.”

The midwife was seasoned: she could boast of the requisite nine hundred hours of training, had helped deliver more than one hundred babies.

“Not a single dead baby, not one. Nor a mother either, not one,” she had told Ally when she took her on.

“She’s one of the best,” the agency had assured her.

“One day we’ll enact a law to make sure that all babies born in our country are delivered by a German midwife,” the woman at the agency had added, raising her voice. “Purity upon purity.”

Perhaps I should have found one with no experience, no idea how to bring a baby into the world, Ally thought.

“Look at me!” the midwife snapped. “Unless you do your bit, I can’t do my job properly. You’re going to make me look bad.”

Ally began to tremble. The midwife seemed to be in a hurry. Ally thought she might have another pregnant woman waiting for her. She couldn’t stop thinking that this woman’s fingers, her hands were inside her, delving around. Saving one life while destroying another.

The night Lilith was born, Ally tried to imagine herself back in the apartment on the riverbank with Marcus: the two of them, hidden in the moonlight, making plans for life as a family, as if such a thing were possible. The morning light always took them by surprise. Caught unawares, they began closing windows and drawing curtains to stay in the dark they’d made their haven.

“We should run away,” she once said to Marcus, while they were lying curled up in bed.

She waited for his response in silence, knowing that for Marcus there could only be one answer. Nobody could convince him otherwise.

“If things are bad for us here, in America it would only be worse,” he would say. “Every day that goes by, more people see us as the enemy.”

To Ally, Marcus’s fear was abstract. It lay in hidden forces, like a gathering wave they couldn’t see, but that would one day, apparently, drown them all. So she chose to ignore Marcus’s forebodings and those of his artist friends; she was hopeful that the storm would pass. Marcus had dreams of working in movies. He had already appeared in one film, in a minor role as a musician, and he had said she should go with him to Paris where he hoped to be cast in another. But then she became pregnant and everything changed.

Her parents were beside themselves. They sent her to live in their empty apartment in Mitte, in the center of Berlin, to hide their shame. They told her that it was the last thing they’d do for her. How she chose to live beyond that point was her problem, not theirs. In the letter her mother had written, she could hear her firm, deliberate voice, with its Bavarian lilt. Ally hadn’t heard from her since.

Ally learned of her father’s death from a notice in the newspaper. The same day, she also received a letter about a small inheritance her father had left her. She imagined that back in Munich there would have been prayers, Ave Marias, veiled windows, and stilted conversations that trailed off into murmurs. She thought of her mother shrouded in mourning, a mourning that for her began the day Ally left. Ally was convinced that when her mother died, she would leave instructions for the news of her death not to be made public, to ensure that her death would go unnoticed, so her daughter wouldn’t get the chance to weep for her. Ally didn’t deserve even that much. Her mother’s vengeance would be silence.

She recalled the feeling of being alone in the vast Mitte apartment, losing herself in its corridors, its rooms full of shadows and painted a muddy green, which she felt would consume her. It was then that the letters from Marcus began to arrive. This isn’t the country I want for my child, don’t come back to Düsseldorf, life here grows more difficult by the day. They don’t want us in America either. Nobody wants us. Sometimes they were not so much answers to her own letters but diatribes.

A cry filled the room. It had come from her chest, her choking throat, her stiffened arms. She felt torn in two. The stabbing pains in her belly spread to her whole body and she clung desperately to the bars of the bed.

“Marcus!” Her shout, guttural, startled the midwife.

“Who’s Marcus? The father? There’s nobody here. Come on now, don’t stop, you’re nearly there. One more push and you’ve done it!”

Her body stiffened and a shiver ran through her. Her lips, trembling, dry. Her belly tensed to a point and then shrank, as though the living being within her had dissolved. She had brought on a storm. She felt the gusts of wind and rain lashing down. Thunderclaps and hailstones pounded her. She was tearing apart. Her abdomen contracted. Opening her increasingly heavy legs, she let something out, a sort of mollusk. A smell of rust invaded the room’s fetid air. The tiny body had taken all the warmth of her belly with it. Her skin quivered.

A lengthy silence. Ally stretched out her legs and closed her eyes. Tears mingled with sweat. The midwife picked up the inert baby by its feet and snipped through the umbilical cord. With the other hand she tossed the placenta into a dish of bloody water, and on one corner of the bed, began to wash the newborn with tepid water.

“It’s a girl.” The midwife’s voice resonated in the room, which was otherwise glaringly silent.

What’s happened? Why isn’t she crying? She’s stillborn, she thought.

Her throat was still burning; her belly throbbed. She could no longer feel her legs.

At that instant, the baby let out a soft whimper like a wounded animal. Little by little, the whimper grew to a howl. Eventually, it became a wail. Ally didn’t react.

Meanwhile, the midwife began rubbing the baby, more relaxed now that she’d done her job. When she saw the bluish tinge of her clean face, her anxiety returned. A lack of oxygen, she deduced. Tentatively, she opened the baby’s mouth and inspected the purple gums. Thinking there might be a blockage in the windpipe, she poked her index finger into the newborn’s tiny throat. She looked at the baby, and at Ally, who still had her eyes closed.

The little baby wouldn’t stop crying as the midwife roughly wrapped her in a clean sheet. Only her face peeped out. The midwife pursed her lips, handing the baby over to Ally the way one transfers a foreign object.

“It’s a Rhineland bastard. You’ve brought a mischling into the world. This girl isn’t German, she’s Black.”

Ally sat up and took the baby on her lap. The newborn instantly settled.

“Lilith,” Ally murmured. “Her name means light.”

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Night Travelers includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Armando Lucas Correa. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

From the rise of Nazism to the Cuban Revolution and finally, the fall of the Berlin Wall, four generations of women experience love, loss, war, and hope in this sweeping novel from the bestselling author of the “timely must-read” (People) The 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 Lilith grows, it becomes more and more difficult to keep her 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 Martín, 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 is her daughter, Luna, who encourages 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.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Images of light and dark permeate THE NIGHT TRAVELERS. How does this imagery inform the novel’s larger themes, characters, and even plot?

2. Consider the epigraph, a line from the poet Rumi: “Night travelers are full of light.” Who would you consider a “night traveler” in this novel? What does it mean to be a night traveler in the various circumstances and eras in which these characters live?

3. As much as The Night Travelers is a sweeping historical novel, it is also an intimate look at one family’s generations of mothers and daughters. Compare and contrast the mother/daughter relationships in this novel. How is each generation different from the previous?

4. There is much intergenerational trauma passed from mother to daughter. How, in her own way, does each woman try to make a better life for her own daughter?

5. When Lilith is still young, her mother, Ally, remarks, “Lilith learns whatever she sets her mind to” (49). How do you see this throughout the course of Lilith’s life?

6. How does history—on both a personal and geopolitical level—repeat itself in these three different eras?

7. Are there ways in which you see the historical events and attitudes from the novel repeating themselves in our own present day? Give examples.

8. Nadine, who spent much of her young life not wanting to know anything about her past, finally comes to the realization that “[a] person can’t spend their whole life forgetting” (249). What does it take for Nadine to change her mind about remembering the past?

9. Before she sends Lilith away, Ally reflects on the Herzog family’s son, who was taken to a concentration camp by the Nazis. The Herzogs’ grief kept them from being able to even mention their son’s name after his brutal death. Ally “promised herself that Lilith would always be known by her name, no matter where they sent her. She would always be Lilith, to herself and everyone else” (74). How does Lilith remain herself, both in her own heart and to others?

10. As an adult, in sun-filled Havana, Lilith still trusts the dark more than the light. In the library of the President, she thinks to herself, “The sun isn’t allowed in here. The thought made Lilith feel safe” (115). What does it mean that Lilith feels safer in the dark? How does this affect her actions as the Cuban revolution intensifies?

11. When Nadine meets Elizabeth, she reasons that “Lilith and Elizabeth shared the same mother, they must have something in common. But only one was the traitor’s child” (295). Compare and contrast Elizabeth and Lilith’s upbringings and consider whether they would have been able to forge a relationship had they had the chance to meet.

12. Why do you think the author chose to end the novel with so many jumps in time? What effect did this have on your reading experience?

13. Were you surprised by Lilith and Nadine’s reunion? What does this opportunity to meet in person mean for Nadine? For Luna?

14. At the very end of the novel, Luna begins to write what is, perhaps, the very novel you just read. Before she begins to write, she realizes that “One of her many lives had begun” (337). How do you interpret this? How might she live many lives?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. If you’ve not already read Armando Lucas Correa’s other two novels (The German Girl and The Daughter’s Tale), do so as a group and compare the plots, characters, and styles. In what ways do the stories connect? How does reading all three books enhance your understanding of The Night Travelers?

2. Research German poets in the lead-up to the war and during it. Read about their lives and select a few of their poems to read. Compare their experiences and work to Ally’s and discuss what themes might be similar for both.

3. Learn more about the revolution in Cuba by watching the film Before Night Falls, based on Reinaldo Arenas’s memoir of the same name. Does Arenas’s story give you a different perspective on how the revolution affected the citizens of Cuba?

4. To learn more about Armando Lucas Correa, visit his official site at www.armandolucascorrea.com

A Conversation with Armando Lucas Correa

Q: You bring to life the eras and cities in which Ally, Lilith, and Nadine live with such wonderful detail and atmosphere, making the reading experience very immersive. How do you go about making these times and places feel so vibrant?

A: When I write, it’s the characters who guide the story. I create each scene as if it had the rhythm of a play. In The Night Travelers, I even chose to divide the novel into three acts, as if I were following Aristotle’s principles of drama. But of course, I also need to develop those scenes in a specific space and time. My studio, where I write, is a small museum. During the research process, I end up buying objects, postcards, books, original documents, photographs, and maps, all to understand the historical period. I need to see the clothes my characters are wearing, even sometimes to know what the perfume they wear smells like. Where they shopped, what wallpaper they put on their walls. I spend a lot of time on these elements, so I was very happy when a New York Times book reviewer said of The Daughter’s Tale that my prose was “atmospheric.”

Q: In writing your previous two novels, you’d already done a large amount of research into many of the places, topics, and times explored in The Night Travelers. Was there any new research you needed to do for this one?

A: There are three basic elements that required extensive research. First, eugenics. To understand it, I went back to the archives of the so-called Human Betterment Foundation, an organization founded in Pasadena, California, in the 1920s to promote eugenics through forced sterilization. Then I researched the Nuremberg race laws and their connection to those studies out of Pasadena. Hitler’s racial laws have influenced many dictators to this day. Sadly, dictators learn from each other.

Then I wanted to re-create two tragic chapters of Cuban history. One was the famous trial of the Cuban aviators who had flown under the Batista regime. The second was Operation Pedro Pan, in which more than 14,000 children were sent to the United States alone, without their parents, fleeing communism. The testimonies of those children, now grown up, are amazing to read.

Q: Was there anything you found that surprised you?

A: German laws of eugenics created by Hitler were specifically based on the research of doctors from Pasadena, California. In the first half of the twentieth century, the method these doctors developed gave rise to the involuntary sterilization of some 70,000 people in the United States. Sterilization continued to be practiced in certain states, including Virginia and California, until 1979.

Q: Is there anything you learned that you ultimately didn’t include but wish could have made it into the book?

A: I have been studying the concentration camps (UMAP) created by Fidel Castro in Cuba in the early 1960s. In those torture and forced-labor camps the government interned gays, Jehovah's Witnesses, and counterrevolutionaries. They were arrested in the streets, at their jobs, in their homes without the right to trial. The idea was to transform them through work, to create the “new man.” When Lilith sends her daughter to the United States, the neighbor who helps her has had her son detained. I created a whole story of the son in those concentration camps in one of the early drafts, but decided I had to cut it. Too many stories for one book!

Q: Irma Brauns was inspired by the real life “Stomping Mare,” Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan. Why did you decide you wanted to weave this real figure into Nadine’s life? What interested you about the real-life story and made you think it would work well for your novel?

A: Reality always surpasses fiction. The story of Hermine Braunsteiner has fascinated me for years. I’ve wondered how that monster was able to blend into society in New York for decades; I marveled at the calmness she showed when mounting her defense. I was also amazed by her husband’s decision to give up everything to be by her side. It was as if he too had decided to go to prison. After she’d been released, now an elderly woman, he was with her until her very last moment.

For me, historical accuracy in my novels is very important. I create a fiction around historical facts.

Q: What was your experience writing The Night Travelers like compared to the other books in the series? Were there any elements that were more difficult? Easier?

A: Of my three novels, I feel that The Night Travelers is the most Cuban. It may sound a bit strange to say that about a novel that begins in the 1930s in Berlin and ends in Berlin in 2015. But Cuba becomes the destination of the four protagonists. Cuba somehow changes all their lives. As a Cuban refugee, I find it very difficult, on an emotional level, to write about my home country. In order to re-create the decades before the revolution that have been distorted by the dictatorship that has ruled the island since 1959, I had to dig into original documents, read books written at that time that do not exist in Cuban libraries. I tracked down books written by and about Batista in rare bookstores in Mexico. I bought original photos of the houses where Batista lived, of his family. It is an era that we need to rescue if we are going to understand more about the history of Cuba.

Q: Do you think of your three novels as a trilogy? Was it emotional to leave this world behind?

A: My three novels are historical and are all united by the story of the MS Saint Louis, but I did not conceive them as a trilogy. They are three stand-alone novels, but I do think there’s some benefit to reading them in chronological order. My next two novels, The Silence in Her Eyes and What We Once Were, diverge from my first three books in some ways. The first is a psychological thriller, the second covers one hundred years of Cuban history through the eyes of a woman, inspired by my maternal grandmother.

Q: What do you hope people take away from this book, as well as your novels as a whole?

A: During my first book tour for The German Girl in early 2017, many people asked me if my book was inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis. Tens of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the war were traveling through Europe in those days in search of a country that would take them in. I explained to them that although my novel had been published during the Syrian refugee crisis, I had finished writing it a couple of years earlier. Little by little, as I continued meeting and speaking with readers of The German Girl and then The Daughter’s Tale, I realized that my books, in the end, had to do with the fear we have of the other, the one who has a different skin color, a different accent, a different language, a different sexual orientation, or believes in a different God. To some degree, we all fear the other. And while we may not understand that we are human beings who are defined by our differences, until we learn to respect those differences, the world will not be a better place. In The Night Travelers, I continued to explore this idea and I hope the story of Ally, Lilith, Nadine, and Luna will open readers’ hearts to greater acceptance and understanding of those who might seem different.

About The Author

Ciro Guitérrez

Armando Lucas Correa is an award-winning journalist, editor, author, and the recipient of several awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Society of Professional Journalism. He is the author of the international bestseller The German Girl, which is now being published in seventeen languages and has sold more than one million copies; The Daughter’s Tale; and The Night Traveler, for which he was awarded the Cintas Foundation Creative Writing Fellowship. He lives in New York City with his husband and their three children. Visit ArmandoLucasCorrea.com.

 
 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (November 7, 2023)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501187995

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Raves and Reviews

“A stunning multigenerational story…the taut pacing keeps the pages flying. Readers will be deeply moved.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In The Night Travelers, Armando Lucas Correa returns to the tragedy of Nazi Germany. The Night Travelers depicts the dangers mixed race people faced under the Nuremberg Race Laws of the 1930s, and the fateful voyage of the St Louis liner to Cuba. Based on historical events, Armando has written a tale of love and survival, and the trauma of displacement in a new land as secrets and pain of the past follow new generations. A very good read.” —Maya Lee, co-author of The Nazis Knew My Name

Praise for The German Girl

“Fascinating . . . a brilliant entrée into the souls, terrors, ardors, endeavors and hopeless valor of people who have been written off. . . . Now, in a new age of people in peril and adrift on the world’s seas, this magnificent novel—and the unexpected and intricate tragedies of its powerfully imagined characters—bespeaks this eternal injustice.”

– Thomas Keneally, Bestselling author of Schindler’s List

“An unforgettable and resplendent novel which will take its place among the great historical fiction written about World War II. Hannah Rosenthal will remain in your heart and her determination to tell the story of what she saw, lived, and lost will change the way you look at the world.”

– Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Shoemaker's Wife

Praise for The Daughter's Tale

"[The Daughter's Tale is] better written and more tightly edited than most books in this genre, and the story line is breathtakingly threaded together from start to finish with the sound of a beating heart. Or more to the point, the silence between the heartbeats. Correa’s prose is atmospheric, but what’s most fascinating about this novel is his portrayal of terrified yet strong female characters who anticipate future trials and methodically work through them. Amanda knows that each decision she makes will have an impact on the next, but her goal is always survival."

– New York Times Book Review

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