Friday, May 18, 2012

Review: All Other Nights

All Other Nights by Dara Horn: Southern Reading Challenge

Dara Horn's novel could be considered both an exercise in "Jewish Geography" during the Civil War and a rip-roaring romantic potboiler, written with the skill and prose of a literary novel. This kind of literature is what Michael Chabon and the Believers set seem to want -- merging solid, engaging plot with a strong sense of literature. Our hero, Jacob Rappaport, enlists in the Union Army in 1861 to avoid marriage to a seemingly mentally challenged young woman as part of a business merger arranged by his father. Rappaport is part of burgeoning mercantile class in New York at the time, of which my own Protestant ancestors also were a part. After months of training and fighting (and losing), Rappaport is recruited as a spy, first to to assassinate his own uncle in New Orleans, then to infiltrate a Jewish family in Virginia whose daughters may be Confederate spies. Horn uses many melodramatic flourishes throughout the novel and lets Rappaport cross paths with Judah Benjamin, the Confederate secretary of state, as well as Jews in Mississippi. The melodrama keeps the novel from becoming what I guess people would call "great art," although the novel itself has a great character -- the beautiful Eugenia Levy, a brilliant spy, magician and escape artist. It kept me in suspense. At the heart of the novel is Rappaport's existential quandary -- should he betray his fellow Jews (his own wife included) or his country? It's worth reading the novel for an early scene, in which Rappaport joins his uncle's family for a Passover seder -- they read about freeing the Jews from slavery as slaves wait on them hand and foot.

1 comment:

Irene Jennings said...

The writing style was very easy to read, and there were not many detailed, flowing descriptions, like in "Gone With the Wind". I think any Civil War buff or anyone that enjoys a Historical novel will find this very engaging. I'd say this is one of the best novels I have read all year!
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