three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
41-July-Aug-2009
By: 
Dara Horn
user_rating: 
0

A-All Other NightsDara Horn, who earned a PhD in comparative literature from Harvard University in 2006, is the award-winning author of In the Image (2002) and The World to Come ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2006.)

The Story: Fleeing an arranged marriage during the Civil War, 19-year-old Jacob Rappaport, son of a wealthy Jewish New York merchant, joins the Union army and is quickly enlisted as a spy. His assignment: to poison his uncle, a fanatic New Orleans Jew accused of plotting President Lincoln’s assassination. Jacob’s follow-up mission is no easier. Ordered by his superiors to infiltrate a Virginia spy ring by marrying its beautiful leader, Jacob finds himself falling in love with the very woman he must betray. Horn’s third novel explores the life of a young man conflicted by his ethnic heritage and struggling to live up to his convictions. Part political-and-spy thriller and part love story, this historical novel about Jewish spies during the Civil War offers a fresh look at a well-documented era.
Norton. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393064921

Baltimore Sun 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Jacob’s] mission, and the idea of bitter-end faithfulness to an extreme, delusional cause, suggest the Joseph Conrad of The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. … For a writer as young as Horn to be compared with Conrad shows what kind of league she’s playing in." Jeff Landaw

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"More typical, and convincing, is the author’s acute depiction of Jacob’s moral development as he eventually gains a mastery of his own life and future. By telling his story, Ms. Horn has also given us a rare and memorable portrait of Jewish life during the Civil War." Emily Bingham

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The relatively conventional storytelling here is quite different from the kaleidoscopic narrative techniques Horn employed in her previous books … but her scope is just as ambitious, her talents as prodigious as ever. … Horn is too gifted and ambitious an artist to settle for easy reassurances or a facile happy ending; she instead offers her readers the deeper satisfactions of complexity and generosity as she limns a world of agonizing, implacable moral ambiguities and guides her imperfect yet lovable protagonist toward a tentative redemption." Wendy Smith

Miami Herald 3 of 5 Stars
"Horn ponders the constraints of Jewish identity and the possibilities for escape throughout the book, weaving these intricate threads into the tapestry of her Civil War page-turner. … While Rappaport stands at the narrative center of the book, he remains somewhat remote and unsatisfying as a character, hovering somehow at the periphery of this more plot-driven narrative." Andrew Furman

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, Horn resorts to exhaustive, explanatory writing too often. … All Other Nights doesn’t reach the Jewish magical realism that Horn achieved in the shimmering final chapter of The World to Come, the novel that readers new to her should pick up and savor." Amy Rosenfield

Critical Summary

As in her previous novels, which both won National Jewish Book Awards, Horn pays homage to American Jewish culture, history, family, and faith. Here, however, she forsakes her trademark "kaleidoscopic narrative techniques" (Washington Post) for more traditional storytelling—to good effect. Horn’s talent for research is undeniable, and the majority of critics agreed that she offers a rare glimpse of Jewish life during the Civil War. Reviewers praised the entertaining descriptions of 19th-century espionage, as well as the depiction of several real-life historical figures. One notable exception (Cleveland Plain Dealer) argued that the novel is too pedantic, and the Miami Herald criticized the protagonist. Overall, however, reviewers hailed All Other Nights as an impressive third undertaking and a strong historical thriller.

Recently Reviewed

The World to Come (2005): When former child prodigy Ben Ziskind sees a Marc Chagall sketch at a museum, he recognizes it as one that hung in his childhood home. He steals it and convinces his twin sister, Sara, to replace the heisted art with a forgery. With this premise, Horn traverses the history of the valuable sketch Over Vitebsk; the life of its creator, Chagall; his Yiddish novelist friend; and their lasting cultural legacy. ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2006)