Dara Horn's third novel, All Other Nights, shimmers with emotion and
historical detail. Set amidst the tumult of the Civil War, Jacob Rappaport is on
a quest to find himself. When he flees his parents' wealthy New York life, he
knows little of himself or the world. His journey takes him into the bowels of
evil, self-loathing and despair; yet there is redemption to be found as well as he
struggles to make sense of love and duty.
What makes Jacob Rappaport so incredibly interesting is that he is a villain without even realizing it. Though he comes from a religious tradition that values free will, Jacob, in the beginning, has little understanding that he actually has it. Desperate to be taken seriously by the Union Army because he has been discounted by his father his entire life, he quickly agrees to kill his uncle, a Rebel suspected of plotting to assassinate Lincoln. After his uncle's death, he is given another task to marry a spy which he accepts with the same alacrity. Jacob is able to kill his uncle because he turns him into an object and a pathetic character. Yet, Jacob's ability to step away from his emotions in the face of duty becomes increasingly difficult as he falls victim to the charms of Eugenia Levy and her sisters. His parents' cold house was devoid of love and honesty, but in the Levy home though there is much illusion and deception there is also a warmth and kindness that he has never known.
There have been many Civil War novels that center around lovers in the delusional South. Horn's rendering allows us to see this epic moment in American history from a different perspective. The central characters of the tale are Jewish, and their experience with the South's beliefs about slavery cast a new light on the old story of the War Between the States. Jacob's Northern experience echoes our modern feelings about slavery and the Southern delusion. The reader will marvel, just as Jacob does, at the Southerners in All Other Nights discussing the Hebrews' flight from slavery as black slaves serve them dinner at Passover Seder. Jacob notices, just as the reader does, that though Judah Benjamin, Secretary of State for the Confederacy, was Jewish, anti-Semitism was rampant in the North and South. The story of the Civil War is so often told in black and white that it is revelatory to see it from an alternative perspective. Horn's deft movement between fiction and history illuminates a new corner of this epic tale.
Ultimately, All Other Nights is a story of suspense and love. Jacob Rappaport's journey to self-discovery and redemption is a page-turner, one that should not be missed.
About the Author
Dara Horn is also the author of In the Image (2002) and The World To Come (2006). She was born in New Jersey in 1977 and received her Ph.D in comparative literature from Harvard University in 2006. She has received a variety of critical accolades and awards for her work, including the National Jewish Book Award, and was named on the of Best Young American Novelists by Granta Magazine. She has taught Jewish Literature and Israeli history at Harvard and at Sarah Lawrence College and has lectured at universities around the country. She lives with her husband and three children in New Jersey.
This review was originally published in April 2009, and has been updated for the March 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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