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Reading guide for All Other Nights by Dara Horn

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All Other Nights

A Novel

by Dara Horn

All Other Nights
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2010, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Reading Group Questions
  1. The title of this novel, All Other Nights, is in the author's view also a question: Are we the same people from one night to the next? If not, how are we accountable for our actions in the past? And if so, how is it possible to change?
  2. Jacob is twice presented with opportunities to potentially save President Lincoln's life, each time at great personal cost. Does he do the right thing?
  3. How do the themes of escape and freedom from bondage (as celebrated in the Passover feast) play out in the book?
  4. What is the role of deception in the novel? What are the different motivations for deception, and can any of them be good? What are the consequences, both for the deceiver and for the deceived?
  5. Palindromes have a playful role in the book among the spy sisters' secret codes, but do they also play a serious one? Many events in the book are repeated (an encounter in a cemetery, a prisoner's unexpected release, a choice regarding a spouse), but with different outcomes. Is there a way in which the book itself can be read as a palindrome? What might this pattern suggest about the characters' control over their circumstances?
  6. Theater and performance come up many times in the novel—including Jeannie's stage acts, Edwin Booth's portrayal of Brutus in Julius Caesar, and Jacob's role as a secret agent. There is also an element of performance in Judah Benjamin's detachment and courier John Surratt's swagger, among many other characters. Are there any characters in the book whose motivations are completely pure? What is the price of honesty for the people in this novel? Is it possible to be true to oneself when one is forced to choose a side?
  7. Slavery plays an important thematic role in the novel, both explicitly in the circumstances of African Americans at the time of the Civil War as well as in other forms of interpersonal exploitation. How are people bought and sold in the book, and what form does freedom take?
  8. Relationships between parents and children are pivotal to the story in All Other Nights, particularly for the fathers of Jacob and Jeannie. What do these two fathers—one an immigrant and the other the son of one—reveal about their priorities and dreams for their children?
  9. What is ultimately more important in this novel: family values or a search for self?
  10. The author has suggested that historical fiction tends to address the time in which it is written much more than it addresses the past. Do you see parallels between the conflicts presented in this book and conflicts in American life today? How would you describe them? Which side are you on, and can you say anything good about the other side?
  11. What makes someone an American in this novel? Is it birth? Ancestry? Ownership of property? Personal freedoms? The respect of others? What is patriotism for these characters?
  12. Where do Jacob's loyalties lie, and is it possible to rank them in order? Where are your own deepest loyalties? Is there a difference between your loyalties as an individual and your loyalties as a member of an ethnic, religious, regional, national, or other kind of group? What do you do when they clash?
  13. What do you think most deserves our personal loyalty? Our collective loyalty?
  14. What does it mean to be able to say no?
     

This reading guide is reproduced from the author's website with the permission of Dara Horn

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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