Jacob Rappaport, the protagonist of All Other Nights, has led a privileged life as the son of a wealthy businessman in New York. He has been given everything he needs; however, Jacob’s confused relationship with his father has run the gamut from hero worship, to embarrassment, to frustration. In the beginning years of the Civil War, Jacob has begun to recognize that he is no more than a trophy for his father to show off to his business acquaintances. When his father agrees to marry Jacob off to the developmentally handicapped daughter of one of his colleagues, Jacob decides that he must break free. He runs away to join the Union army.
During his first few months serving the Union army, the nineteen-year-old Jacob is called to the office of three prestigious generals. In his youthful conceit, he is convinced he is going to be promoted. Instead, the generals reveal their knowledge of his family connection to Harry Hyams, a Jewish Rebel who is allegedly part of a plot to assassinate Lincoln. They assign Jacob the task of removing this danger to the president and send him to New Orleans to kill his uncle. Jacob struggles with memories of Hyams as a gentle, loving man who seemed to care more for him than his own father had. He has difficulty seeing his uncle as a danger to the country.
Once he reaches New Orleans, hidden in a barrel and dressed as a Rebel soldier, Jacob goes to his uncle’s home and joins in a Passover Seder. Jacob’s conflict becomes more complicated when he finds out that Judah Benjamin, the second in command of the Confederacy, plans to join the Hyams family for the ceremonial meal. He wonders if he should poison Benjamin, one of the most powerful figures in the South, rather than his uncle. However, after overhearing his uncle arguing in favor of assassinating Lincoln while Benjamin rejects the plan, Jacob realizes that his uncle is enough of a villain to be a threat to the country, so he takes the opportunity to add poison to Hyams’s drink.
Returning to New York, Jacob is admonished by his superiors for killing his uncle rather than Benjamin. Their disregard of his guilt over poisoning a man that he had held in high regard reinforces Jacob’s confusion about patriotic duty versus humanity. His ability to follow orders despite the personal cost, however, leads to a second assignment. He is sent to New Babylon, Virginia, to infiltrate the family of Philip Levy, one of his father’s business associates. Levy has four daughters, and the oldest two are suspected of spying for the Confederacy. Jacob’s assignment is to marry Eugenia, the second daughter.
Upon entering the Levy home, he is immediately confused by the Levy women. The eleven-year-old Rose speaks only in word puzzles. She twists everything she is told or that she wants to communicate into code. Phoebe, a fifteen-year-old, has taken up the scandalous hobby of wood carving. Eugenia (Jeannie), has been a professional actress, performing in front of audiences of hundreds. The oldest daughter, Charlotte (Lottie), has been engaged numerous times, even to several men at the same time, but she has never married.
Despite his bewilderment at the women’s behavior, Jacob revels in the family life of the Levys. He infiltrates the heart of the family, gaining the father’s trust and helping him run his business. As he thinks he is building Philip’s trust, he watches the women closely for evidence of espionage. His failure to discover their plots is relieved only by accident when he finds a coded message revealing his identity as a spy. He destroys the message just before his marriage to Jeannie.
At the wedding ceremony, the Levy family’s life changes. William Williams, Jeannie’s former beau and fellow spy, threatens to unmask and then kill Jacob. Philip Levy saves Jacob by shooting Williams himself. He is immediately sent to prison. Jacob holds the family together during their father’s incarceration and learns several things. First, Jeannie reveals the women’s espionage on their...
(The entire section is 1649 words.)