Apr 13, 10
Read in April, 2010
I was so disappointed with this book! It had a great premise--Jewish espionage during the Civil War--but it didn't pan out.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of this book was Jacob. I can't think of the last time I read a book with such a weak, sapless main character. Other than running away to join the Union army, Jacob did not once act of his own volition. Every step he took was forced upon him by another person. And even signing up for the army was something Jacob did only as a last resort, after he was forced into it by the prospect of an arranged marriage. Jacob is constantly having misgivings about what he is doing, but he does it anyway, every single time. Pretty major spoiler coming up right here, but if Jacob was so in love with Jeannie, why didn't he do anything about it? Why did it take two years and the combined efforts of his father and hers to get him finally track him down? I honestly just wanted to shake him, "wake up man and do something!" To be fair, I think that what the author was going for was a discussion on choosing between competing impulses: love and honor, self and society, justice and emotion. However, the debate never fully played out, because the only choice Jacob consciously made was to not act. The rest of the time he was just swept along in the machinations of characters who actually had backbone.
At the conclusion of the novel, Dara Horn includes a fairly lengthy author's note, in which she discusses her motivation for writing All Other Nights as well as the historical sources for her novel's characters and plots. The information contained here is really interesting--she lists off a number of Civil War spies and also gives some background on Judah P. Benjamin, a major player in both Horn's novel and in the actual Civil War. Reading this, I came to a realization about the plot of All Other Nights, which at first seemed like nothing more than a messy, soupy mix of random detail and far-fetched characterization: there are simply too many incredible stories to tell. The historical details Dara Horn mentions in her author's note are fascinating, even though they're only the barest outlines of the stories. In trying to pull them all together, the spy who could dislocate her jaw at will, the slave in General Longstreet's camp who relayed messages through laundry, and the riding crop used to transport messages, Dara Horn tries to do too much. It feels like she was so enamored by the many stories she came across in her research, that she forced them into the novel