All Other Nights
 
July-25-10
Dara Horn
 

On the final pages of this book, the main character, Jacob Rappaport sees his two-year-old daughter for the first time. His face is disfigured from a munitions dump explosion. He lives in constant pain and can only walk slowly with the aid of a cane. The city of Richmond, VA, is burning. A plot against President Abraham Lincoln is ordered aborted Ė assuming that Jacob can convince a volatile courier to ride north.

All Other Nights makes perfect sense looking back from the end of the book. But the reader starting page one had better fasten her seatbelt; itís going to be a bumpy ride for suspension of disbelief.

The Jacob Rappaport of the bookís end is a wiser, stronger, more clear-sighted man compared to his younger self. The Jacob Rappaport of the first chapter is too weak to say no to a horribly unsuitable marriage; naÔve enough to believe that following orders to murder his uncle will lead to personal and Jewish glory for the Union; and too unsophisticated to consider the unintended consequences of his actions.

The young Jacob is unlikeable Ė so much so itís tempting to put this book down before Jacob has even climbed out of the barrel that hid him on the way to New Orleans.

That is not to say that this isnít a great summer book. It is. It has romance, history, and thrilling tales of wartime spying. But most of all, it pulls away the curtain on the roles of Jewish Americans during the Civil War.

More than 10,000 Jewish men fought in the Civil War, 70 percent of whom fought for the Union. Given that some of the earliest Jewish settlers were Sephardic Jews who settled in southern cities such as Charleston and Savannah, itís not surprising that nearly 3,000 Jewish men fought for the Confederacy.

While many of the Jewish immigrants who came to America in the decades prior to the Civil War found it to be welcoming and much freer than the ghettos of Ashkenaz, they also discovered the limits to that acceptance. One fascinating portion of the book deals with Gen. Ulysses S. Grantís expulsion of the Jews from Tennessee, accusing them of war profiteering. (The decree was soon rescinded by President Abraham Lincoln.)

This is Dara Hornís third book, published in 2009. It took root when she was a 19-year-old fact checker for American Heritage magazine. Many of the characters are based on actual people, including Judah Benjamin, who was the first Jew to serve in the U.S. Senate. Representing Louisiana, he was pro-slavery, prompting Sen. Benjamin Franklin Wade of Ohio to describe him as ďa Hebrew with Egyptian principles.Ē Judah Benjamin served as attorney general, Secretary of War and Secretary of State for the Confederacy under Jefferson Davis.

She also draws on the true stories of a variety of women spies (for both the Confederacy and the Union) for the creation of the Levy sisters. Muses for these characters include the real Eugenia Levy Phillips; Rose Greenhow, whose father had been murdered by a slave; Phoebe Pember, the head nurses for Richmondís Chimborazo Hospital, the largest in the South; and Ginnie and Lottie Moon, inventive women with much in common with Hornís fictional sisters, Lottie and Eugenia Levy.

  From Issue:11.06
Reviewed by: Jeannette M. Hartman
 
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