I 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.