How is tonight different from all other nights? For Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army, it is a question his commanders have answered for him: on Passover in 1862, he is ordered to murder his own uncle, who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln. After that night, will Jacob ever speak for himself? The answer comes when his commanders send him on another mission--this time not to murder a spy but to marry one. A compelling novel rich with romance and the history of America (North and South), this is a book only Dara Horn could have written. Full of insight and surprise, layered with meaning, it is a brilliant parable of the moral divide that still haunts us: between those who value family first and those who are dedicated, at any cost, to social and racial justice for all.
Set during the U.S. Civil War, the story follows the adventures of Jacob Rappaport, a New York Jew who joins the Union Army and is ordered to murder his
uncle, a Confederate supporter with plans to assassinate Lincoln, and then to marry a business associate's daughter in order to obtain information on her spying for the Confederacy.
The good points are these --
1) Top-notch writing. Every scene is vivid and real; you smell the smoke, see the flames, hear the explosions.
2) The minor characters are fully realized, no mere walk-ons in this book. Each has a story, often as interesting -- if not more so -- than that of the main
3) Intriguing historical detail.
4) An interesting look at what is was like to be Jewish at that place and time.
And the bad stuff --
1) Excessive use of coincidence to move the plot forward. The most offensive: when our hero just happens to encounter a relative of John Wilkes Booth as the driver of his cab.
2) A weak initial premise. There is a great deal of authorial intrusion to explain what the protagonist is thinking (or not thinking) in order to justify his decision to accept the assignment and murder his uncle.
3)The protaganist himself is unsympathetic. When not murdering or otherwise injuring others, he seems to spend most of his time wringing his hands over his
4) The theme, or moral lesson, appears to be "it's okay to say no." The author belabors this simplistic point to the detriment of plot, characters, and much else.
Jacob’s next assignment is more complicated. He is to marry a young woman suspected of being a Confederate spy and who is the daughter of a business associate of Jacob’s father. Not surprisingly, Jacob and Eugenia fall in love. But the outcome isn’t at all as expected and through the course of the rest of the novel Jacob faces what he believes to be the retribution he deserves.
Horn explores many themes in this complex novel. The little known story of Jewish Americans and their role in the Civil War is central, the irony of a people that were themselves enslaved coming to the defense of slavery and even owning slaves. And yet, as with other American families, their families too were torn by war, as witnessed in Jacob’s own family. One of the key characters in the novel is Judah Benjamin, the real-life Secretary of State under Jefferson Davis and one of the most loyal defenders of the Confederacy. Jacob is pitted against Benjamin during the final denouement in the ultimate test of loyalty to a cause.
Throughout the book, the characters struggle with their deceptions and the decisions they make. Spying and subterfuge bring out the best and the worst, and time and again the characters realize that they could have simply said no to what was asked of them. Horn gives her characters depth and dimension in their anguish and remorse over how to do what is right in a time of war. What begins as a seemingly straightforward story takes many twists and turns before coming to its satisfying conclusion.
Well researched and well told, All Other Nights is a literary page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat while you’re reading it and that will keep you thinking long after it is finished. Highly recommended.
The main difficulty I had with this novel is its series of unbelievable coincidences and a number of gaps in the plot. The writing is fine enough but doesn't quite overcome these flaws. Horn apparently intended the novel to question Jacob's conflicts between his faith and his loyalty to the Union; but I never got a sense that he was particularly devoted to either. He seemed more of an ungrounded man being carried along by the flow of events.
The night before Jacob wedding he runs off and joins the army. The military life suits him. Soon though he will be
For the most part the novel held my attention but moves very slow through a good portion of the book.
"Inside a barrel in the bottom of a boat, with a canteen of water wedged between his legs and a packet of poison concealed in his pocket, Jacob Rappaport
From that moment on, Jacob's story was fascinating. This is a not a novel that will dazzle with it's beautiful language, though it is well written - it is much more concerned with telling a great story, which I found to be refreshing. Additionally, I enjoyed Horn's unique perspective on the Civil War.
This is the first time I've read about the experiences of American Jews during this time, and I found myself interested in this period of history in a new way.
I found Jacob to be an incredibly sympathetic character - he almost seems doomed, with first his father, and then the army forcing him to accept horrible situations because he has no other choice. She deftly explores the issue of a person's actions defining their character through the decisions Jacob is forced to make - can you still be a good person if you do bad things? If you do bad things for good reasons, does that justify your actions? I also loved Eugenia, and would love to read an entire novel about her.
My one complaint about the novel is the extraordinary number of happy coincidences that occurred just in the nick of time, and the rather abrupt ending - but really, those are small problems in an otherwise wonderful novel.
I highly recommend this one - I didn't want to put it down, and definitely plan to read more by this author!
Running for his life with the image of a noose around his neck if caught, Jacob's next appointed task is to stop a group of female spies, ascertain which of the devious ladies is the ring leader, and marry her in order to stop her secret subterfuge. He finds himself in a home of odd inhabitants with a father lost on how to manage four daughters alone after the hideous recent murder of his wife. Amongst four delightfully alluring women who are creatively combining their individual talents to create a most ingenious method of getting coded messages to their Confederates spy network, Jacob soon falls in love with Jeannie whose talent is magic and slight of hand. Her sister Phoebe is a skilled carver of unusual objects that hide the secret notes that travel from North to South. Rose, the youngest daughter is gifted with words and is in charge of ciphering and decoding the messages, while Lottie, the oldest, collects fiancé's using her charms to uncover much needed information.
Knowing that this assignment is imminent, and that he must marry into the Levy family like it or not, he selects Jeannie as his bride to be. As the two unlikely spies turn lovers, a plot of intrigue, espionage, family feuds, shocking betrayals, and a romance that will glue readers to the pages, offers up an exceptional literary novel of the trials of war. As the newlyweds begin their turbulent new marriage, each fully knowing they are both spies for the other side, the author begins their story of a sultry and seductive life of passion and fear as they endure life, death, and a daughter born in the midst of conflict. They watch their life around them unfold into crisis as the issues of racial bigotry have black slaves and Hebrew Jews fighting for their freedom, and see their world turned upside down as flames of glory and the fires of hell put darkness and light in their paths many times over before their story ends.
Friends, foes, enemy's and lovers, all cross paths in All Other Nights and will have readers totally riveted to this book that is undoubtedly superbly written, and brings characters so alive on the page you can hear them breathing as they hide from enemies in pursuit. Readers will listen to their whispered promises as they arrange their secret liaisons, and will feel their teardrops falling when their passions can not be denied. Turning the pages slowly you will hear their gut wrenching sobs when loved ones are thrown into rat infested prisons, and will stop breathing along with them when clandestine messages are passed on in hope that they will be delivered safely.
Murder, action, romance, espionage. This is a tale of war not to be forgotten. Dara Horn's evocative civil war story will leave a stamp on the readers' memory for a long time to come after closing the finale page. I loved this book. I felt so much compassion for each and every character involved, and I enjoyed the fact that I never knew what path the story would take and wondered right up until the end, how it would all turn out. Bravo to Dara Horn, All Other Nights is an astonishing polished achievement. Hollywood should find this, Book Club discussion groups should choose this. This incredible book totally left me breathless!
She is a wonderful writer. This one, in a slightly new genre for her of semi-historical fiction, is a superb tale of the Civil War experience as told from Jacob Rappaport, a young New Yorker about to go into an arranged marriage so his father's business
This quite well researched tale explores the lives of Southern Jews, the (new to me) expulsion of Jews from the State of Tennessee during the Civil War (due to "war profiteering"), and the turn paging story of Jacob's experience as a Union spy in the South.
The personalities of her cast are so
After this incident he is given orders to break up a spy ring composed of the four beautiful Levy sisters. His intention is to marry Eugenia Levy to gain the family trust whereby he can investigate their covert operations for the Confederate cause. Falling in love with Eugenia was just not in the plan.
Horn’s characters are nicely developed with attention to details, each memorably unique. Rose, the youngest sister, has a penchant for palindromes and is just peculiar enough for a future screenplay version. Jacob has a tough time discerning her quirky language that makes no sense to him. After their first meeting he is bewildered by her behavior and quite unsure what to make of her.
Jacob finds much more than he had anticipated at the Levy home as he waits and watches for any spy activities. When he is forced to leave their home he must decide between loyalty to his cause and loyalty to family. Throughout the novel Jacob the Union soldier continues to face difficult choices that produce conflict with his conscience. It is a story of a man with misplaced loyalty, or loyalty to a cause at all cost versus devotion to his family.
Dara Horn produces a quality romantic novel of the Civil War period with page flipping tension. However, more than that, her novel produces questions that prompt rumination and personal reflection with her timeless moral message. All Other Nights is an impressive favorite of 2009. Highly recommended!
fascinating picture of Jewish life and Civil War
Someone with an interest in history and who enjoys historical fiction may find it more their cup of tea. Horn did a good job of recreating the time period and bringing to light many historical details that I never knew about before.
All Other Nights is a book about slavery and freedom, and how difficult it can sometimes be to distinguish one from the other. It is set
Jacob Rappaport, a nineteen-year-old Union soldier, answers this question in a way that will affect the entire rest of his life. He is assigned by his commanders to attend his southern uncle’s Passover Seder and poison him during the meal; the commanders believe the uncle is part of a plot to assassinate Lincoln. Jacob would not be in favor of such a plot, and certainly he finds appalling irony in the spectacle of Jews celebrating the end of slavery while being served by slaves. But he also loves his uncle and thinks he is a good man. Still, Jacob believes he has no choice but to obey the instructions, and he may be correct. Nevertheless, he knows what he has been asked to do is wrong. Indeed, throughout the story, the entire trajectory of Jacob’s life is shaped by his inability to disobey others and to listen to his heart. As the author explains in an interview appended to the story, in this book she is exploring the many ways in which freedom can be understood; those who are physically enslaved but true to themselves can be seen as more free than those who have given up their mental liberty (whether for ambition or love or fear).
Jacob receives another assignment, not understanding that his obedience inspires contempt rather than admiration, and is once again commanded to take advantage of love and family to betray those who trust him. But this time, he falls in love with the woman he has been sent to destroy. Jacob is not let off easy by the author; there is no facile epiphany allowing Jacob to answer to his better angels, and no perfect ending in store for him. Equivocation and attempts at atonement fail to prevent his Biblical-like punishment. Only when Jacob truly gains the courage to be true to himself will he realize any sort of redemption.
Discussion: This novel was exceptionally absorbing, reminding me of the biblical stories that weave in and out of the plot. Jacob is tried and tested, tempted and tortured; he cries out for forgiveness, but doesn’t know how to find it. His journey toward redemption takes him through a wilderness of battles and blood and betrayal and passions, and between families split down the middle by a shocking conflict over the ownership and control of human bodies. Through Jacob’s eyes we experience the horror of being attracted toward something repellant; the self-hatred that comes from realizing you are only human; and the inexorable hand of the Old Testament God, never mentioned directly, but always there: asking for righteousness, and meting out justice when righteousness is denied. This is a book that won’t fail to animate a book club, because nothing that happens lacks moral complexity.
Evaluation: This deeply imagined tale uses the setting of the Civil War to pose questions about the morality of obeying the State when you are asked to do something you consider immoral; the role of trust and honesty in creating enduring relationships; and above all, the sometimes slippery distinctions between slavery and freedom. I think this award-winning author is quite deserving of the many accolades accorded to her.
It begins on Passover in 1862 New Orleans with a young New York Jew named Jacob Rappaport sent
As the endnotes make clear, All Other Nights is meticulously researched. But it wears its historical erudition lightly and does just enough to bring to life a long dead world. The main real historical figure in the book is the Confederate Secretary of State Judah P. Benjamin, but there are some brief walk-on appearances by some other lesser known figures. And it is historical fiction that tries to stay true to the known facts of history while presenting a secret story underlying them.
By picking Jews as her subject, Dara Horn effectively illustrates the strange way in which the Civil War literally tore families as the end up on either side of the line. And by focusing on spies, she finds a way to tell the story that is not only interesting but allows a lot of interaction between the characters from the different sides and questions about what is and is not true.
Horn is at her strongest in creating four unique, quirky sisters that form the putative Virginia spy ring, each of whom has their own vividly drawn quirks. And a scene near the end of a "starvation ball" just before the fall of Richmond where dirty water is served in wine glasses, empty platters are circulated, and an escape artist performs for a charity function in particularly vivid and strong.
Altogether enjoyable and very interesting.
This time it's Civil-War-era US and more linear than before, but it's still a story about parents and children and how people fall in love. The history is how I like it: as it was to the people living it and not too intrusive. This is