All Other Nights, Dara Horn’s latest literary offering (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), tells the gripping story of a Jewish spy who works as a Union agent in the south during the Civil War. Horn, who claimed the National Jewish Book Award for her two previous novels, The World To Come and In the Image, is a gifted storyteller that immerses readers in a vibrant world of carefully-crafted fiction.
Skillfully weaving fantasy with realism, Horn explores themes of Jewish identity and mythology while establishing a literary landscape that is rooted in American history. For those familiar with Horn’s work, All Other Nights will not disappoint: It is an absolutely engrossing tale about a young man’s struggle with love, deception, guilt and the brutality of war.
From the opening scene of the book, protagonist Jacob Rappaport, a nineteen-year-old Union soldier, is given a mission: To assassinate his Rebel uncle. Taking advantage of Jacob’s connections with the Jewish community— forged through his work with his father’s business, Rappaport Mercantile Import-Export— three Union generals send Jacob to New Orleans to kill Harry Hyams, a Confederate spy plotting to kill Abraham Lincoln and an imminent threat to the northern cause. With a vial of poison in his breast pocket, Rappaport arrives in the sweltering south and invites himself to his uncle’s Passover Cedar.
Staging this scene on Passover – a holiday that celebrates physical and psychological freedom, while commemorating the Israelites' liberation from slavery in Egypt – adds to the potency and momentum of the situation. With the words of the three generals spinning through his mind, “Imagine yourself written up in the history books … If you succeed, the entire Union will immortalize you…” Jacob makes a choice that alters the course of his life and, for Horn’s readers, casts him as a coward who is able to push his conscience to the side in the light of immortality and orders.
Jacob’s next mission is equally compelling: He must infiltrate the Levy household, marry one of the four sisters working as Confederate spies and send word of all suspicious activity to his superiors. The Levy women, however, are not to be underestimated. Horn masterfully individuates the women of the household, equipping them with unique skills and talents. Rose, for example, the youngest daughter, loves to play with language and speaks in palindromes, coded phrase and riddles. By the end of the book, Rose’s code functions as a secret language that creates a sense of intimacy between character and reader.
The leading lady— a character who captures our curiosity from the moment of her introduction— is Miss Eugenia “Jeannie” Levy, a Rebel spy, pickpocket, actress and escape artists. A powerful bond is established between Jacob and Jeannie. With her arms around him, Jacob struggles to conceal his identity and the weight of his deception begins to weigh on him-- heavier and heavier with each breath. Their love— tumultuous, dishonest, veiled and yet intensely rich— is what propels the novel forward.
Filled with sharp imagery and strikingly descriptive prose, All Other Nights is a compelling novel that creatively re-imagines history, transporting readers to a fantastical world of the past. Illustrating both the strength and isolation of the Jewish community during the Civil War, Horn explores identity in an extremely poignant way. She asks her readers to think about what it is that they value most in life— family, faith, country-- while asking them to consider how far they would go to defend it.
Horn will be reading scenes from All Other Nights at Malaprop’s on Saturday, April 24th at 7 p.m. A wine and cheese reception will follow.
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"This is a story about our relationship with these biggest-brained creatures on earth, our concept of consciousness and mind, our deepest superstitions and best science, the results of our widespread dependence on whale oil followed by fossil fuels, and of possible repercussions of blind faith and unquestioned technology on our collective future," reads the intro to Whale Falls: An Examination of belief and its consequences, the latest book by writer/journalist/City Councilman/ former Xpress staffer Cecil Bothwell.
The book, divided into sections by elements (fire, ice and light) touches an all manner of philosophical discussion, from death and ethics to diet and politics, all linked by stories involving sea creatures. The stories, culled from Bothwell's personal life, manage to be, at once, both deeply investigative and and easily digestible.
Bothwell speaks at Asheville Green Drinks, BoBo Gallery (22 North Lexington Aven., Asheville 254-3426) on Friday, April 23 at 6 p.m. The official launch for Whale Falls is on Thursday, April 29; Bothwell will read and sign books at Malaprop's at 7 p.m. that evening.