Considering she’s already published three novels, it might surprise you to hear that Dara Horn is in her (very) early thirties. Perhaps even more surprising is that she has also earned a PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Add to that she’s raising three children, and well, you’ll just have to take my word that she’s a remarkable woman.
I can also attest that at least the latest of those three novels is a remarkable book. You might recognize All Other Nights from many of the ubiquitous year-end “Best Of…” lists. It certainly deserves to be there. The story follows Jacob Rappaport, a Union spy, through his travails from New Orleans to Richmond during the Civil War. Along the way he meets a whittling girl, a fetching pickpocket, a bloodthirsty Southern Belle and a child that speaks in palindromes…and that’s just in one family.
Some characters are actual historical figures. Perhaps the most enthralling of these is Judah Benjamin, Secretary of the State for the Confederacy. Horn brought a Confederate two-dollar bill to the interview, which features Benjamin’s profile, and we talked about Benjamin’s important but precarious place in the ill-fated Confederate nation. He was Jewish, and partly because of this, he drew the ire of both Northerners and Southerners. Of course, the idea of a man who was very much a minority holding high office in the CSA is rife for all sorts of literary exploration involving allegiance, identity and motivation. Horn does a remarkable job with this exploration by subsuming the discourse into a very captivating story line involving all sorts of espionage and intrigue.
Dara Horn’s work at Harvard focused on Hebrew and Yiddish literature, so she brings a wealth of understanding to the complexity of this subject. It’s a complexity germane to Southern literature and culture, I think, because it implores us to examine, through storytelling, who we are and why our history is important to us. And most of all, it’s a wonderful read.
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