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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "On some other night...everything would be different"
The 'Four Questions' text asks "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Jacob Rappaport is assured in "All Other Nights" that "What you allow to happen on one night will happen on all other nights as well." Which is it? Jacob's redemption hangs in the balance.

Ms. Horn has written a wonderfully researched, compelling piece of historical fiction...
Published on April 4, 2009 by Judith Paley

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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I love Dara Horn's books, but I found this one disappointing.
This review will not have any spoilers.

One of my favorite books is Dara Horn's first novel, In the Image. It's simply marvelous. Her next book, The World to Come, was also a winner although I didn't like it quite as much.

Having enjoyed those books I was really, REALLY looking forward to this one. And I am sorry to say that I was really disappointed...
Published on April 12, 2009 by sb-lynn


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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I love Dara Horn's books, but I found this one disappointing., April 12, 2009
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sb-lynn (Santa Barbara, California United States) - See all my reviews
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This review will not have any spoilers.

One of my favorite books is Dara Horn's first novel, In the Image. It's simply marvelous. Her next book, The World to Come, was also a winner although I didn't like it quite as much.

Having enjoyed those books I was really, REALLY looking forward to this one. And I am sorry to say that I was really disappointed with it and I was surprised that my reading experience was so different than so many other reviewers.

This is the story of a young Jewish man, Jacob Rappaport, who becomes a spy for the Union during the Civil War. He is chosen for this role because he has certain important family connections with people in high places in the Confederacy.

Jacob is sent on several morally ambiguous assignments, and he dutifully complies. He is eventually sent to stay with relatives who are suspected of being Confederate supporters and spies and his mission is to marry one of the young daughters. What he didn't count on was falling in love.

I did learn some interesting information in this book, especially about the roles and prevalence of Jews on both sides of the conflict during this war. I had no idea that the Confederate Secretary of State was a Jewish man named Judah Benjamin. What the author does well is show that despite allegiances to either side, Jews were still considered outsiders; often treated with derision and suspicion.

I also thought that the author did a good job of showing how good people can be put in complex and thorny situations where they have to make difficult moral choices - where no matter what they do, they do not come out with clean hands.

I did have some problems with this book, and one is that I thought that it bogged down in places. I was surprised to see this novel described as a page-turner because it sure wasn't that for me, although the author's previous books were. (This novel does differ from her previous books in that it is more traditional in format, and the story telling is straightforward and linear.)

I also had problems with the characters. I found Jacob to be too self-depreciating and full of low self-esteem and self-doubt, to the point that I had trouble understanding why one of the other important characters, Jeannie, fell in love with him. I started feeling about him the way he felt about himself, which wasn't good. I had trouble sympathizing (or empathizing) with him, and he never came alive as a character for me - he never seemed real, and he seemed to deal with his situations and moral dilemmas by either denigrating himself or hand-wringing.

I also had trouble understanding what motivated Jeannie, and why she made the choices that she made. Like Jacob, I could never get a handle on her.

Lastly, I thought that the author was rather heavy-handed and obvious in trying to get her points made, such as the fact that race doesn't matter, and that we are all the same under our skin:

"soldiers and slaves, and girls, black and white, little boys and old women, many of them drunk. all of them raving - were walking around dazed, their clothing and faces and hands and hair painted with a layer of gray soot. The effect was to erase the races, making the white people look like Negroes and the Negroes look like whites."

Although I am disappointed in this book I do highly recommend Dara Horn's first brilliant novel, In the Image. You can't go wrong with that one.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars This is a bit, a bit repetitious, May 6, 2009
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HardyBoy64 "RLC" (Rexburg, ID United States) - See all my reviews
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(May contain spoilers but you shouldn't read this book anyway).

Honestly, there is not a lot to like about this novel. The plotline is extremely convoluted and the characters are just not likeable. The men are lustful idiots and the women are conniving tricksters. The biggest problem, for me, was the very poor execution of the writing. There is so much repetition. The author can't describe a southern woman without having to mention "the errant curls" in her face and the thousands of times she has to tuck them behind the ear. The prose literally becomes funny near the end of the novel. Jacob, the protagonist, wonders many, many times that "it is all just a dream" and "it was as if he were in a nightmare". The funniest repeating description is after Jacob loses his eye and the myriad of funny lines that follow: "He couldn't take his eye off Jeannie", "the eyes of every man in the room bulged, including Jacob's remaining eye", "he squinted his remaining eye","...she said, glaring at his remaining eye" and "a picture unfurled before his remaining eye as he connected the dots..." (these repetitions are laughably numerous).

And I have to mention this funny line when the author writes "The corridor was lined with books, but the study was positively vomiting them" (p. 257) Too funny and quite painful, in my opinion.

Beyond the extreme repetition, the Jewish approach to the Civil War is handled very poorly, in my opinion. This topic seems original and full of potential, but the writing is so bad and the treatment of Jews in the war so trite, that it's a complete literary mess. Jacob comes to no spiritual understanding of what he's done and thus there is no redemption at all for his past sins. Judaism doesn't even matter to him in the end. How poorly the Jewish aspect is handled can be seen in this one line alone when she writes "The three Christian men at the table looked at his wounded Hebrew body and saw salvation incarnate". (p. 254) Silly, superficial and meaningless.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "On some other night...everything would be different", April 4, 2009
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The 'Four Questions' text asks "Why is this night different from all other nights?" Jacob Rappaport is assured in "All Other Nights" that "What you allow to happen on one night will happen on all other nights as well." Which is it? Jacob's redemption hangs in the balance.

Ms. Horn has written a wonderfully researched, compelling piece of historical fiction. Who thinks about Jews in America during the Civil War, much less Jews as spies or Confederates? If you'd like to go to a place and time about which you've not given a moment's thought, check out this book. Beautifully written, it's an absorbing read and thought-provoking as well. Ms. Horn joins Anita Diamant as a top-notch chronicler of Jewish life as it may well have been.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Women good, men bad, dialogue flat, religion wimpy, April 17, 2009
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Every step of this book strikes a false note. The female characters are almost all brilliantly talented and tough-as-nails. The men, including the nominal lead character, are inept and unfeeling. This approach is fine for chick-literature, but this book is aiming for quite a different genre.

Then there is the flat, unbelievable dialogue. None of the characters sound as if they live in the 1800's. None of them sound Southern. None of them sound military. None of them even sound Jewish. These are serious limitations in a civil war story focused on Jewish characters. (By the way, the Jewish angle was one of the main attractions for me).

How clumsy is the dialogue? Here is an example. An Irish civil war sergeant of no particular education launches into a half-page of dialogue describing the story of King Saul and the Prophet Samuel. His description includes phrases such as ""It was a bit hypocritical, I suppose. . . " "I suppose King Saul was never a particularly admirable sort. . ." "I suppose one has to imagine that at this point he was a bit mentally disturbed as well. . ." "I suppose one has to imagine what poor King Saul must have felt. . ." "though I suppose no one has to imagine that." Let's see, that's five "I suppose" phrases in a single paragraph, combined with two gratuitous uses of "a bit," combined with touchy-feely language ("imagine what poor King Saul must have felt") that is about as far away from an Irish civil war sergeant as you can get. It's poor writing. It's poor editing.

As for the Judaism, the spirit and tone is consistently wrong. None of these "Jewish" characters participates in daily prayers. None studies, or seems to have any knowledge of, the Talmud. A lone female character is depicted as following the laws of Shabbat (the Sabbath) and, apparently, keeps Kosher. Quite unbelievably, she then has sex on a second "date." Alas, even the sex is too tepid to entertain.

As for the war, we get a few lines here and there, but never a detailed description of an actual battle.

The author tries, I think, not to come across as liberal, feminist, secular, and basically pacifist. In my opinion, she fails, much to the detriment of the story.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Golem, aka Jacob, fights in the War Between The States, June 26, 2009
This novel mixes the Golem legend with parts of the biblical story of Jacob. The Golem was created to obey orders without question which he does until he falls in love. The protagonist of this novel, Jacob Rappaport is an example of just such a Golem. He murders his uncle on orders; he destroys families on orders. He is a hard character to like.
Jacob Rappaport emulated the biblical Jacob by also disliking his uncle, running away from home, becoming involved with a family that has one father and four daughters, becoming injured in an attack, and in a plot twist based on historical fact, relies on the baker to save him instead of the wine steward.
I do enjoy one theme of the book whereby the Southern nobility is shown, contrasted with the Northern crudity. Of course, there were good and bad Yankees and rebels, and fortunately they are fairly represented instead of being stereotyped.
This book is an interesting read, begging for a sequel.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, lots of neat characters, fantastic view of the Civil War, May 30, 2009
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Phlogiston (West Hartford, CT USA) - See all my reviews
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There is a lot to like about this book, so I want to be concise. Hence, here's a list:

1) This is a unique view of the Civil War. It offers a look through the lens of Jewish views in both the Northern and Southern states and reintroduces some forgotten personalities (including Judah Benjamin) from the era. One forgets that Jews fought on both sides. One also forgets how hard Jews had to work to be accepted as Americans and how Jews have always had a very personal view of slavery and oppression due to both phenomenons existing in their past.

2) The book addresses the practice of espionage during the Civil War, a phenomenon often overlooked when discussing the topic. One often hears about code breaking during World War Two, spying missions during Vietnam and the endless drone and satellite surveillance that has been used in subsequent wars, one even hears about Nathan Hale when dealing with the Revolutionary War. However, during the Civil War, when families were divided and there were so many ways for information to be passed from North to South and South to North, one hears very little of how espionage played a role in the unfolding of the war. This book addresses the topic nicely.

3) This is a heart-rending tale of how families can be torn apart by war, and how even a husband and wife can find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines. One always hears about divisions between brother and brother, between father and son, etc. This book is, perhaps, even more intimate when it shows how even fathers and daughters and husbands and wives can be split apart from one another.

4) There is a strong theme of redemption in this book. The main character, who, for me, was not terribly likable throughout the first half of the book and who seemed to be an incredibly flat character, who was pushed into almost everything he did, and, almost invariably, always sought out the path of minimal resistance, if not least resistance. He feels that he has hurt so many people, especially people who are dear to him, and, though he did it because of orders from his superior officers, he finds it dubious whether he ever made a difference in the war. He seeks redemption like a drowning man seeks air, but it ends up, for a long time, being a fruitless search. This is a feeling that many of us can relate to and with which many of us can empathize. It is the character's imperfections that finally make him into a well rounded protagonist.

5) The supporting characters are AMAZING. The four daughters of Philip Levy, especially the eldest two, and Levy himself end up being a great supporting cast. The main character's uncle, his romantic interests later in the book, his family and so many other ancillary characters all make this story supremely engaging. Even the personalities that support some of the least comfortable positions that were espoused by the South are still quite engaging and one cannot help but want to see them see the light. One wants to see them succeed. The main character, Jacob, seems almost flat by comparison. However, he is a young man who has been sheltered and it is fascinating to see him grow into himself.

6) The prose is elegant and well crafted. It is entirely comprehensible, yet light and flowing.

7) The horrors of war come through especially strongly when one sees the collateral damage as it is portrayed in this book. Not all of the hurt is done on battlefields. What you don't see in the war movies is all too clear in this fine historical novel.

In closing, it is hard to imagine a richer or more dramatic backdrop for a story than our nation's Civil War. The author makes tremendous use of it and offers a very unique view of the events of this horrific conflict. Anybody who is interested in the history of Jews in America, the Civil War, striking interpersonal dramas or war-themed novels will simply adore this opus.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Brave Attempt from a Terrific Writer, but..., December 17, 2009
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Historical fiction is a tricky genre. It's the rare author who can tackle it successfully, and by successfully, I mean making a story set in the past relevant without making it sound, at one extreme, stilted, or, at the other, anachronistically contemporary. It's a tough balancing act.

Let me say this outright: I love Dara Horn. I'm a huge fan of her earlier work, so it's tough for me to write this review. The World to Come was brilliant--a densely textured and deftly multilayered book that nonetheless felt as light as angelfood cake and moved as effortlessly as a watersnake across the surface of a pond. She set the bar pretty high with that one. All Other Nights doesn't really measure up. This story of a Jewish Civil War officer, Jacob Rappaport, who is recruited to spy on his Confederate co-religionists, confronts some great questions and perennial human themes: Does loyalty to one's nation trump loyalty to one's people? Can love survive the trajectory of our parents' choices and the lives they make for us? And finally, what price are we willing to pay for answers to these questions? But the execution I found a little wanting.

I once heard Michael Chabon say during a reading that when it comes to historical novels (and he should know, since he's written a few of them), "research can be a trap." I think Ms. Horn fell into that trap. All Other Nights is scrupulously researched, but one gets the feeling that she was caught between wanting to maintain historical accuracy and telling a good story. It's as though her fidelity to accuracy led her to sacrifice the life, the wit, and the verve that characterizes her earlier work. She bravely attempts to portray the Levy sisters as endearingly quirky, but they just come off as... well, weird. And the two Union officers who serve as Jacob Rappaport's handlers, with their habit of constantly restating what the other has just said, are a bold attempt at comic relief, but they come off as irritating and artificial. And the protagonist, Jacob Rappaport himself, remains a curuiously unfinished and nebulous character throughout the course of the book. The dialogue is flat, the plot a little contrived, and at the end, the reader is left with no affection for any of the characters and no lasting impressions.

And this is odd, because Ms. Horn is no stranger to historical fiction and romans-a-clef. She did a magnificent job of reimagining historical people (Marc Chagall and Der Nister) in The World to Come. Her characterization of Chagall was particularly striking, insofar as she did not hesitate to expose the darker side of this beloved artist--his coldness and self-interest--and in doing so, made him both interesting and human.

That said, All Other Nights isn't a bad read. It's a decent potboiler, and it kept me turning pages until the very end. It was a good try, I'm still a huge fan of Dara Horn, and I'll read whatever she writes. But in light of the work she's done before, All Other Nights was disappointing.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Lines, April 4, 2009
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Readers with no prior expectations will find this an unusual and absorbing Civil War romance. Although the fortunes of war are always in the balance, most of the fighting takes place offstage; the book's biggest set-piece is the burning of Richmond in the novel's final part, and it is seen entirely from a civilian perspective. For the book's protagonist (I cannot say hero), Jacob Rappaport, is a Union spy sent behind enemy lines, where he eventually comes to work for Judah Benjamin -- the real-life Secretary of State to Jefferson Davis, who served as spymaster for an extensive network of Confederate agents. The clandestine background brings conflicts of patriotism and personal loyalty into exquisite relief, especially when Jacob falls in love with a woman from the other side, whom his paymasters expect him to denounce.

Dara Horn's previous book, THE WORLD TO COME, was a richly potent cocktail of fact and fantasy, calling on ageless Jewish myth to illuminate contemporary New York life. Horn seems to require some element of fantasy in order to write at all, but this fits less easily into the historical straitjacket of the American Civil War. The reader may need a certain suspension of disbelief to get started with the book; once involved in it, he will get swept up in a fast-paced saga of colorful characters, in the manner of E. L. Doctorow's THE MARCH. Nonetheless, the adventure-story element made it more difficult for me to take the moral questions entirely seriously; Jacob, for example, is a dubious hero because of the number of things he does that are morally repugnant yet necessary to the plot. I preferred Geraldine Brooks' similarly-named Civil War novel MARCH, because she derives her fabulous element from an existing work of fiction (LITTLE WOMEN), leaving herself free to explore moral issues with extraordinary concentration, and also because her hero is a direct link to the values of Emerson and Thoreau.

Dara Horn is equipped to do this too, writing out of the moral depth of Jewish thought and with a cast of characters who are mostly Jewish. One of the joys of THE WORLD TO COME was the depth of her portrayal of Jewish culture, so I was hoping for the same here. Her title is taken from one of the traditional questions at the Passover seder, and a seder in New Orleans early in the book poses a stark dilemma: "Jacob wondered if there could be anything stranger than sitting down to a Passover seder, the feast of freedom, with every part of the meal served by slaves." But while the book plays out in a mixture of little-known historical facts and all-too-familiar discrimination, it never really grapples with moral issues in specifically Jewish terms. A pity.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Would You Do?, May 24, 2009
Very good novel. I had a hard time putting it down. The choices and moral dilemmas Jacob is constantly facing makes for an intriguing story. Jacob, is a Jewish living in America during the Civil War. To avoid an arranged marriage to a mentally incompetent woman, Jacob runs away from home and joins the Union army. From there, it is one difficult choice after another. Can he kill his own uncle? Can he infilterate a family and marry one of the daughters? Can he turn in his own wife? I found myself pondering his choices as tho I myself had to make them. What would I do?? For a war novel, however, it really lacks much in the way of fighting. There was little or no detail about the fighting techniques or gruesome details of war. What this book shows it mostly "behind the scenes" of the war, the spying, the decisions, the money changing hands. Jacob does not even become wounded in combat, but an explosion. He simply is in the wrong place at the wrong time. I loved the character Jeanne, but found her "magic tricks" a bit preposterous and unexplained. I really enjoyed this book, but due to way too many coincidences within the story and an ending that left me hanging, I give it four stars instead of 5. I do, however, recommend it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gone With the Wind meets Charles Dickens and Passover, May 16, 2009
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This is one of the most unusual books I have ever read, in a good way. I found the main character, Jacob, who is a Jewish soldier, to be intriguing. It seemed like he didn't have a real sense of self at first, as though he was still discovering his identity. He says several times "the Jacob I knew was gone, and new one was in his place" I found this to be one of the more interesting aspects of the novel. The reader gets to watch as the character evolves into a unique person through the course of the book.

Second, I found the woman he was "assigned" to marry to be very interesting, her family even more strange and engrossing. Jacob is told that this woman is a spy, and he needs to marry her to find out important information so she can be captured. Unfortunately, she and her family are some of the most bizarre characters I've encountered yet. It reminded me slightly of Charles Dickens, and his slough of unusual people that pop up in his books.

This family has 4 daughters and a rather absent father. The oldest turned down several marriage proposals, one on their wedding day. The second oldest, Jacob's target wife, was rumored to be an actress and has sticky fingers. The third daughter likes puzzles and says everything in palindromes. The youngest is simply a little girl.

Overall, this was a truly remarkable book that I found difficult to set down, even for a moment to get a sip of iced tea. Jacob has an extraordinary life, and the reader will be sucked into his life and feel as though they are acting out the story themselves.

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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All Other Nights: A Novel
All Other Nights: A Novel by Dara Horn (Paperback - March 8, 2010)
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