Tiny Lights for Travellers
Naomi K. Lewis
When her marriage suddenly ends, and a diary documenting her beloved Opa's escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the summer of 1942 is discovered, Naomi Lewis decides to retrace his journey to freedom. Travelling alone from Amsterdam to Lyon, she discovers family secrets and her own narrative as a second-generation Jewish Canadian. With vulnerability, humour and wisdom, Lewis's memoir asks tough questions about her identity as a secular Jew, the accuracy of family stories, and the impact of the Holocaust on subsequent generations. (From University of Alberta Press)
Naomi K. Lewis is the author of the novel Cricket in a Fist, the short story collection I Know You Remind Me Of and Tiny Lights for Travellers. She lives in Calgary.
Tiny Lights for Travellers was a finalist for the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
"My parents found the journal that my grandfather had written during the Second World War, when he escaped from the Netherlands to an unoccupied part of France. At that time it was July 1942. All the Jews were being deported and people were going into hiding or leaving if they could. His brother went into hiding, but my grandfather didn't have a family — a wife or children — so he decided he was going to leave the country.
There was this horrible genocide and the fact that we're alive is this anomalous miracle.- Naomi K. Lewis
"It was risky. He had to travel for two weeks through occupied Europe on a fake passport, crossing borders on a bicycle or by foot. It was this treacherous journey. What he didn't know when he wrote it is what would happen after, which is that he'd go to England and end up in the military. By the end of the war, he had met and married my grandmother. My mother was born the week the war ended. He went home to the Netherlands and found out that his mother had been taken away to a concentration camp and killed. He had left her by herself assuming it wouldn't be that bad. Why would anyone bother an old lady who wasn't religious?"
From the book
The sky was full of humans, and I was one of them. Way above the Atlantic Ocean, I exhaled, and had no choice but to refill my lungs with air expelled from inside the strangers crammed close around me. According to the digital map on the seat-back in front of me, we were about halfway there. My nose began to tingle, and that could only mean one thing: I would grow a cystic pimple, a massive throbbing lump, right there, a millimetre above my right nostril. At thirty-nine, I was travelling alone for the first time, and my reasons for crossing the ocean seemed, from this vantage, murky at best.
An attendant came by with his cart, and I asked for a coffee. Leaning my head back, I pressed the hot cardboard cup under my nose against the tingling spot, since heat often warded off cysts before they really got going. Oh, go away, painful nose-swelling, please go away. Soon I'd meet relatives I barely knew, and I'd face strangers for the rest of the month. Not to mention Matteo. Hotter than optimal, painful, really, and I didn't want to burn myself, had to get it just right. But, I thought, this is a particularly sensitive spot, this is why it hurts so much. Three minutes is usually good. How long has it been? Okay, three minutes starting now. I closed my eyes.
From Tiny Lights for Travellers by Naomi K. Lewis ©2019. Published by University of Alberta Press.