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
Join our mailing list!
Get our latest staff recommendations, award news and digital catalog links right to your inbox.
. 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.