Armando Lucas Correa, in his latest novel “The Night Travelers,” takes the reader on a journey through some of the 20th century’s most turbulent times following the lives of four generations of women: Ally, Lilith, Nadine and Luna. The journey begins in Berlin in 1931.
“It’s a Rhineland bastard. You’ve brought a mischling into the world. This girl isn’t German, she’s Black.”
Ally had just given birth to her daughter, Lilith. Her father, Marcus, was a Black jazz musician who would “disappear” before Lilith’s 3rd birthday, and so began Ally’s solitary journey through Nazi Germany and Hitler’s “racial hygiene” program that would become the law of the land in 1933. Ally and Lilith spend their days within the walls of their apartment, venturing into the streets and the parks only in the dark: “By night, we’re all the same color.”
As Hitler’s eugenics policy finds firm footing in Germany, Ally knows that Lilith’s future will depend on her ability to send Lilith away.
In May 1939, she puts Lilith in the hands of her neighbors, Albert and Beatrice Herzog, and watches as her daughter boards the Saint Louis bound for Cuba.
December 1948, Veradero, Cuba
Lilith, now 17, has fallen in love with Martin, who is training as a pilot to support the now-deposed Cuban leader El Hombre (Fulgencio Batista), who lives in Daytona Beach, Fla. In the 1948 elections, Batista is elected as senator in absentia and returns to Cuba. The war that had raged for years in Europe has finally ended, but another, more localized, conflict is just beginning on the once beautiful and prosperous Cuban island. In the ensuing years, political unrest creates an environment in Havana that will forever change the island and the life Lilith and Martin had once envisioned. On New Year’s Eve 1957, the first day of their long-awaited honeymoon, an explosion rocks the Tropicana cabaret club amid shouts of “Down with Batista!” As their chauffeur escorts them to safety and their car, Martin holds Lilith’s hand: “This country is going down in flames.”
Havana, Cuba, 1962
Four years after her husband’s arrest as a supporter of Batista, Martin is executed. As social and political unrest consumes her adopted island home, Lilith knows the only chance for her 3 year-old daughter, Nadine, is to send her away. With the help of Catholic nuns, Lilith smuggles Nadine out of Cuba. Lilith remains, finally understanding the decision her own mother had been forced to make years earlier.
New York, 1975
Thirteen-year-old Nadine has never wondered about her past. She remembers little of her mother and the island where she was born. She knows her grandmother was a German poet but knows little else of her family history. She has wanted for nothing. Her life with Irma and Jordan Taylor is peaceful until the night a journalist shows up at their front door in search of Irma Brauns. Shortly after that visit, Irma Brauns is arrested by the German government and charged with Nazi war crimes.
Jordan and Nadine leave their Queens home, headed for Dusseldorf to support his wife as she faced charges of crimes against humanity. Nadine forgets her New York life and goes about rebuilding a new life in Germany. She finishes school and enrolls in university in Berlin. It is there she meets Anton Paulus and begins a search for her grandmother, Ally Keller.
Bochum-Linden, Germany, 1996
After the birth of her daughter, Luna, Nadine “promised herself she would open her eyes and reconstruct her history” from broken fragments. She follows a trail opened to her by Professor Galland, who is researching the German poet Ally Keller.
When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, Galland had unlimited access to university archives. With his help, Nadine and Luna begin to reconstruct the history of her grandmother Ally Keller, the Black musician Marcus, Bruno Bormann and Franz Bouhler, the man who had saved Lilith.
A journey that began in Germany in 1931 finds an ending in Germany in 2015. The pieces of a turbulent life, a family history hidden in forgotten papers, will at last bring closure, understanding and peace for four generations of women, if not for the world at large.
• “The Night Travelers: A Novel” by Armando Lucas Correa was published by Simon & Schuster on Jan. 10. It retails for $27.99 in hardcover.
• Irene M. Pearcey is the manager of Inklings Bookshop. She and other Inklings staffers review books in this space every week.