Thursday, April 9, 2009

REVIEW: All Other Nights, by Dara Horn


All Other Nights by Dara Horn. Published 2009 by W.W. Norton.

Click here to buy All Other Nights from your favorite indie bookseller.

I received an advance readers copy of All Other Nights courtesy of LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program.

All Other Nights is an absorbing page-turner about Jewish life during the American Civil War by Dara Horn, author of The World To Come, which is sitting on my bookshelf, positively begging me to take it down. But first things first.

Young Jacob Rappaport, scion of a wealthy New York family, runs away from home when his father arranges a marriage between Jacob and the daughter of a business associate. Jacob joins the Union Army and is soon dispatched to New Orleans, assigned to assassinate a would-be assassin of Abraham Lincoln; the assassin happens to be Jacob's uncle. Following the successful completion of this assignment, Jacob is sent back to the South, this time faced with insinuating himself into the Levy family, an eccentric band of Confederates, and marrying Levy daughter Eugenia a.k.a. Jeannie, an actress who the Union suspects is a spy. From here to the last page, it's game on.

All Other Nights is a big, intimidating-looking book, but it's packed back to front with action and reads very quickly. Horn writes with dizzying efficiency; each chapter could be its own television episode. Remember back when there were these things called mini-series on television? For a week or so, a network would put all of its regular programming on hold and viewers would be treated to an epic, multi-part drama, usually historical or romantic- or both. North and South. Roots. The Winds of War. All Other Nights is that kind of story- sweeping, dramatic and full of action, romance, intrigue and hustle and bustle.

I would describe the style of writing as light historical fiction; Horn concentrates on action and plot over character and other considerations, although Jacob is especially well-drawn and the Levy sisters have distinct, if roughly sketched, personalities. The real star of the book is the Civil War itself and the chaos it wreaked on America. Jacob gets caught up in all kinds of machinations and plots and counter-plots; following his adventures made for compulsively readable fun. It was fascinating to learn about some of the real-life American Jews who were important in the Civil War, like Judah Benjamin, Jefferson Davis's second in command, and to get a little glimpse into early American Jewish culture through the stories of the book's fictional families. Everyone has their own story, and it was great fun to see how it all turned out.

The title is at once a reference to the first of the Four Questions traditionally asked and answered at the Passover Seder ("Why is this night different from all other nights?") and a reference to something Judah Benjamin says close to his last appearance in the book- a statement to the effect that people can't change, and that the person you are tonight is the person you are on all other nights. In other words, this night may be different from all other nights, but we are the same. But is that the case? Can people change? One of the questions haunting the background of the book is the question of character, motivation and the essence of personality. Do our actions define us? Do we have good reasons for the bad things we do? Do those bad things make us bad people? Is it possible to recover, or to forgive? The end, which comes abruptly, offers no easy answers but still leaves the possibility of hope and a better future.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from LibraryThing.com for review on their site. LibraryThing is not affiliated with the publisher.

13 comments:

candyschultz said...

Zafon's new book is one of the early review copies on LT this month. You probably know this but just in case.

Marie said...

candy, yes- thank you. I put in for it but I'm sure there will be BAZILLIONS of LTers trying to get it so my chances of success are slim to none. :-)

Diane said...

This one is on my list too; great post!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Well as I guess you can see from my comment on your previous review, I'm in the people can't change (much) camp! But this book sounds like a really interesting treatment on that theme!

But anyway, on the subject of Civil War and Passover, did you see this?

Scroll to the article "Civil Seders in the Civil War"

http://www.ajhs.org/about/newsletter/2008/Heritage_2008.pdf

candyschultz said...

Well I put in for it as well so we are vying against each other as well as all the others. Doesn't matter as I will definitely buy it otherwise.

Jules said...

This sounds like a great book, I added it to my ever growing TBR list. Thanks for the review!

Rebecca :) said...

I am wanting to read this book. I tried to snag it from LT Early Reviewers, but did not get it. Great review on it though! I am even more excited to read it.

Serena said...

Sounds like a great book. I haven't gotten many books from LT Early Reviewers.

Sandra said...

This is on my tbr list. I'm sure I'll enjoy it, but I'll have to get it at the library. Thanks for your thoughts on it. I'm looking forward to it.

Zibilee said...

This sounds like something I would enjoy. Thanks for the great review.

Anna said...

Sounds interesting. I'll have to keep this one in mind when we get to the Civil War in our War Through the Generations challenges.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Barrister said...

Horn's book is basically Forrest Gump meets Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is way too much of a stretch for her character, a private in the army, to rub shoulders with so many famous figures from history.

Horn is also way too fast and loose with the facts in her "historical novel." She dismisses Secretary Benjamin as a loser who did not finish law school but set up an unsuccessful practice anyway. Benjamin not only finished law school in Louisiana after he left Yale, but also turned down two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Further, when he returned to England, he held a high post as a Barrister and advisor to the Queen. If that isn't enough, his treatise on property is still valid authority today.

Finally, Benjamin's participation in any plot to assassinate anybody is pure unsubstantiated rumor. Horn's treatment of that issue is nothing short of libelous.

The book serves as little more than a fantasy love story, to be read in the afternoon over a box of bon-bons. It does not rank as an historical novel.

Carolina Gal's Literary Cafe said...

I read finished All Other Nights. Fun read. Your last commenter said exactly right it is light historical reading. Historical fiction means there is some truth but some not so true. Thats why at the end of the book, paperback. Dara Horn explained the fact from the fiction. I don't know why people get so bent over shape about historical fiction. When I read historical fiction it draws to me to do my own research, and conclusions.

I did not like Jacob not always confronted his problems. But in a arranged marriage, you did not question. You just did what was told. Luckily, what drew was this book was not bogged down with Jewish theology. Not that I minded, but gave this a light, fast, fun read.