Under The Covers and Reading

May 4, 2009

Identity Politics in the Civil War

Filed under: Uncategorized — by underthecoversandreading @ 4:21 pm

all-other-nights-dara-horn1I was determined to finish  this book despite a slow start  so I forged ahead and completed it.  I don’t often do that– if I don’t ‘feel’ the book immediately I usually stop.  This time, however,   I was really afraid I was the problem and to some extent I think that remains true.  I just wasn’t as into the subject (Civil War espionage from the perspective of a Jewish soldier from NYC) as I could have been.  I resisted  Horn’s narrative in ways and didn’t allow myself to go with the flow of the book.

This is disappointing because I think All Other Nights is a genuinely good and compelling read, but perhaps just not for me.  I’ll be analyzing why that is for a long time.  It’s got the elements that should, and probably will, grab anyone else who picks this up– it’s an historical novel of the civil war but the protagonist is a Jewish Union soldier who must go undercover in the deep South to marry a Confederate female spy.  Surprisingly it was the female characters that I didn’t really ‘get’ in the book.  They were a strange combination of vapid Southern Belles and Jewish Scarlett O’Haras.  Very odd.   I don’t know enough about American Judaism in this period and region to know if they are really plausible.

What I did connect with, however, was the anti-Judiasm that was so prevelant in the South at that time as well as the ways in which prejudice reared its head within the military.  I had no ideas Jews were expelled from American towns during the Civil War.  That alone should have make this compelling reading for everyone.  At this point in our country’s history I think many readers  know about and respect the service of african american civil war combatants, but I know I had never considered the role Jews might have played in the Civil War.

Anti-Judiasm gets overlooked or trivialized today in ways that are inexcusable.  This book would definitely be a fascinating starting point to discuss religion, ethnicity, and war.  In the United States we pride ourselves on our heritage as a “melting pot” — but this book forces the reader to wrestle with questions of identity and allegience.  Which is more compelling– Religious identity?  Family connection?  Love?  Ethnicity?  Regional heritage?  Politics?  I appreciate Horn’s book for allowing me to consider these questions.

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