The Night Travelers

  • Review
By – January 9, 2023

With his fin­ger always on the human pulse of his­tor­i­cal events, Cor­rea opens his third nov­el with the impos­si­ble deci­sion a free-spir­it­ed poet must make to pro­tect her mixed-race daugh­ter from Hitler’s racial laws. He then fol­lows the heartache that her grown daugh­ter endures, hav­ing to send her own daugh­ter away to save her life dur­ing the Cas­tro rev­o­lu­tion. As the sto­ry slips for­ward and back­ward through eighty-six years, from Ger­many, to Cuba, to New York, and back to Ger­many in 2015, the fam­i­ly recov­ers pieces of their matri­archs’ sto­ries, with rev­e­la­tions about the hus­bands, lovers, friends, and betray­ers in their lives.

Cor­rea gives his most lyri­cal­ly mem­o­rable scenes to the first woman, the poet whose writ­ings are posthu­mous­ly col­lect­ed and dis­sem­i­nat­ed. Frag­ments from her diaries and poet­ry sur­face through­out the book. The night you were born,” she writes, Berlin was at its dark­est.” Her most famous poem, which includes the line By night, we’re all the same col­or,” touch­es on a moral theme that runs through Correa’s own writ­ings and per­son­al life. A Cuban Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist who left Castro’s Cuba to live a life of his own choos­ing, Cor­rea decries intol­er­ant total­i­tar­i­an regimes who label peo­ple to restrict their free­doms and make them miserable. 

Nei­ther the author nor his main char­ac­ters are Jew­ish. How­ev­er, the Holo­caust set­ting is metic­u­lous­ly researched. Cor­rea fea­tures the voy­age of the St. Louis lin­er from Ham­burg to Havan­na, which car­ried 937 most­ly Jew­ish refugees; the graph­ic hor­ror of med­ical exper­i­men­ta­tion” by Nazi physi­cians at the Sach­sen­hausen intern­ment camp out­side of Berlin; and the war crime tri­al of a for­mer Nazi nurse mar­ried to an Amer­i­can serviceman.

Some may ques­tion the pos­i­tive light in which Cor­rea casts Batista’s regime, but in fact the fic­tion­al Ger­man Jew­ish refugee fam­i­ly thrives there until Cas­tro takes hold. Inter­est­ed in how peo­ple behave in light of events going on where they hap­pen to live, Cor­rea rais­es issues of moral cul­pa­bil­i­ty. Yet he does not total­ly resolve his own ques­tion about one of Batista’s pilots, who was accused of indis­crim­i­nate­ly bomb­ing vil­lagers along­side rebel gueril­las — not in the same way he firm­ly con­demns the Nazi nurse’s exces­sive cru­el­ty against Jew­ish chil­dren as a crime against humanity.

There is such full­ness in The Night Trav­el­ers, and the read­er comes to care about all four gen­er­a­tions of women — the youngest of whom exhibits lit­er­ary prowess of her own.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er and a school librar­i­an for forty years in NYC, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

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