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All Other Nights: A Novel
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Showing 1-10 of 10 reviews(2 star). See all 120 reviews
on February 4, 2013
Dara Horn is clearly a talented writer. I was much more impressed with her ability to create a story and characters than most of the other negative reviewers. This was a story in concept I wanted to read. But the main character of Jacob was so weak and willing to go along with the three buffonish officers who sent him on his missions, it became very difficult reading. The Levy sisters were fascinating, especially Eugenia, so following a main character that sets up her and her sister's capture and possible execution was beyond my capabilities as a reader. (Don't know if they were executed or not and don't want to know)Stopped reading there.

This could have been a great novel if the main character of Jacob wasn't such a fool, wasn't so bereft of morality and moral courage, had any redeeming, likable characteristics (he was not a likable rogue, just a weak moral coward). But alas, he didn't.

Ms. Horn, please try again. And remember, it's people we like or are fascinated by that we want to read about. Not complete tools.
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on February 19, 2014
This book was recommended to me as a civil war spy story involving Jewish families. I have read several
books on the Civil War and this seemed to offer new events for me. It started off with interesting reading covering
an assignment given to a northern Jewish soldier to assassinate an uncle in the south being
suspected of spying activities and then marrying into the family to discover more about their operations. Sounds good!!
Then it fell apart for me .From the second chapter on it becomes a love story between the soldier and the southern
young lady of the house. There are many references to Jewish holidays to highlight events and considerable name dropping
of Civil War personalities, but it comes down to the survival of the northern soldier and his southern bride. The references at the
end of the book were quite interesting since they dealt with actual events Unfortunately they were limited. If you enjoy love storys'
give it a try. If you are a civil war reader I would stick to civil war non-fiction books.
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on December 17, 2009
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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on September 10, 2012
I'd heard good things about this book and this author (I haven't read her other work), but I was pretty disappointed in the book. The historical context of the story is fascinating - and who does't like spy fiction - but the writing is not very good at all.

Horn isn't an incompetent writer of the English language - this isn't Dan Brown we're talking about here. But her prose in this book really lacks style, or distinctiveness; the words are there only to move the plot forward, at the expense of their literary quality. The characters are wooden, and the dialogue is sometimes painful (near the end,the main character starts talking in this extra-formal language for no good reason at all). I'd like to read something else that Horn has written, but I don't really recommend this one.
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on November 25, 2014
Hokkey, contrived. Undeveloped characters w/ un believable traits, feelings and actions. Second book I've read by Dara Horn and I won't read another. The plot lines are just too hard to believe. Really didn't like it.
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VINE VOICEon April 17, 2009
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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on March 28, 2013
Fine for someone who wants no Hebrew and really wants basic. Doesn't meet my requirements
Nothing more to say. over
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on October 28, 2013
This novel was disappointing for a number of reasons. First there is the quality of the writing. It is almost entirely of the breathless chick lit - purple prose variety. For example, descriptions of how the main male character, Jacob, responds to the main female character, Jeannie, seem right out of a generic bodice-buster: "In the days since he had met her, she seemed only to become more stunning. Her lips, he saw, were perfect." Throughout, we are constantly reminded of her "exquisite" skin and the "dark curl behind her ear." Re-united after three years of war, starvation, and death have taken their toll, "she was vastly more beautiful than he had remembered her. ... Her hair hung in dark wild curls around her shadowed throat." Men see the heroine and start "drooling". Readers who enjoy this sort of writing might enjoy this novel. For myself, it leaves me wondering why it is that Horn seems to assume that an ordinary looking woman would not at all make a suitable heroine, much less have any charms for the hero. It all seems so superficial. In addition there are passages that would not pass muster in an college creative writing course: "That month passed in a fever dream." ... "He had succeeded in breaching the deep trench of distrust". Very surprising from a writer with an advanced degree in Comparative Literature from Harvard.

I don't know about her other novels, since I haven't read them, but Horn seems to have no feeling at all for male characters. Jacob, the main character, is a caricature. He is totally weak and totally lacking in self-respect. From the outset he mindlessly carries out orders whether they come from his commanding officers or from the women he encounters along the way. Although the novel is touted in the blurb and in reviews as a parable on the conflict between loyalty to family and to an abstract ideal, there is very little of that in the writing. The hero of the novel behaves more like an automaton than a human being. There is little about the psychological or spiritual conflict he may have felt in being ordered to murder a member of his family and then to entrap a woman in a sham marriage in the service of his country. Other than shame, lust, and craven obedience there seems to be remarkably little to him.

After he suffers a debilitating injury he comes even more under the domination of his superiors and Jeannie. The novel is a bit like a bad "Jane Eyre", except that Rochester is believable and interesting as a character before he is injured and falls under Jane's domination. Judah Benjamin might have been an interesting character; unfortunately there is little more to him than a showy exterior, a mysterious smile (which we are constantly reminded of), and an ability to always land on his feet like a cat (pace Woody Allen). Perhaps Horn is attempting to rehabilitate Benjamin's reputation by softening the irony of America's most brilliant contemporaneous Jew being an enthusiastic participant in the Confederacy. After the war, in exile in England, Benjamin became wealthy and successful, renowned as the author of the "Treatise on the Law of Sale of Personal Property", regarded as a classic in its field. How ironic is that?

"All Other Nights" is a missed opportunity -- an opportunity to explore the irony inherent in the situation of Jews in the Confederacy. The title is taken from the four questions recited at the Passover Seder, a holiday which commemorates the Exodus, the passage from slavery to freedom. This phrase has resonance for all Jews, as does the centrality of the Exodus. Yet there is little of that in this novel. Instead there is a lot of gushing about the "stunning" beauty of Jewish Confederate women and their apparently hypnotic power over Union soldiers.

What is most jarring about this novel is its lack of historical authenticity. Although Horn cites sources in a pedantic and rather defensive afterword, she seems blissfully unaware of the realities of slavery as an institution. Not long before I read this novel I read Frederick Douglas's "My Bondage and My Freedom." Douglas describes in great detail how universal the support for slavery was in the South (and he was a slave in Maryland, not in the deep South). Even those who were not physically cruel to slaves believed in the justice and rightness of slavery, supported by theories of racial inferiority which were almost universally accepted amongst whites. In Horn's novel a house slave, on the flimsiest of motives, murders Jeannie's mother with a shotgun. She simply walks from the garden into the house with a loaded shotgun, "cursing some tribe that had sold her mother in Africa", levels the gun at Jeannie's mother and shoots. The response of Jeannie's father to this is to emancipate all his slaves. Quite simply the chances of such ever having been enacted in the antebellum South are one in a million, or more likely zero in a million. As with any institutionalized gross evil, the victims of slavery were rendered almost completely incapable of responding with direct violent resistance. In the case of slavery this was accomplished by keeping slaves totally uneducated, monitoring their activities closely (including restricting their access to weapons) , capriciously imposing harsh penalties for slight infractions, and instilling from early childhood the fear that bad as things were they could get much worse, something particularly true for a "house slave". The few cases of individual slaves murdering their masters (which excludes the few organized insurrections such as Nat Turner's) were almost always a result of the desperation borne of a provocation such as extreme cruelty or repeated rape. Although this murder is crucial for the plot line I just could not believe it, even allowing for the suspension of disbelief. Jeannie's father is depicted as a kindly and reluctant slaveholder (which itself would be highly atypical), and Jeannie's mother remains a cipher as does the provocation.

I give All Other Nights two stars instead of one because about halfway through there are a few paragraphs about Jefferson Davis which, unlike the rest of the novel, show some spark of thought, wit, and originality.
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VINE VOICEon May 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Normally, I love historical fiction and the Civil War is a favorite time period of mine, but I just didn't find this book as compelling as many of the other reviewers. It had all the ingredients -- spies, intrigue, betrayal, lovers, hardships -- but somehow it just didn't work for me and I struggled to make it to the end. The plot was disjointed in places, and sometimes I didn't understand the motivations of the characters. As a result, I never really warmed up to most of them. I did like the main character, Jacob, but for the majority of the book he was so naive that I felt sorry for him. Through his hardships, he did finally grow wiser and his journey to maturity was one of the more interesting themes of the book.
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on September 24, 2009
I was really looking forward to reading this book after seeing all the great reviews, but I found myself disappointed with the plot. There are things that happen in this novel that felt really contrived to me. You really have to suspend your disbelief for a couple of the coincidences in this novel. [Spoiler alert coming...] He happens to fall in love with the woman he's sent to trick? He happens to later meet and have an affair with a woman who turns out to be a cousin of his "dead wife"? Those plot devices left me feeling cheated, and I wasn't able to really enjoy the book from there.
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