I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War

I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War

by Jerome Charyn


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Jerome Charyn’s “daring” and “memorable” (The New Yorker) historical novel renders the inner life of our sixteenth president like never before.

This unforgettable portrait of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy to create an achingly human portrait of the sixteenth president. Charyn conducts an orchestra of historical figures and fictional extras centered around a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and his sons—Robert, Willie, and Tad—is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn’s President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780871404275
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 02/03/2014
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.70(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Jerome Charyn's stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Paris Review, American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative, Ellery Queen, and other magazines. His most recent novel is I Am Abraham. He lived for many years in Paris and currently resides in Manhattan.

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I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Beverly_Stowe More than 1 year ago
The president of the United States presents a certain image, an image that does not always tell the people the whole story of the man. When we read each of the president’s stories, we discover that they have many of the same problems other people have. They make mistakes; they face challenges and sometime win, sometimes lose. Author Jerome Charyn’s novel, I AM ABRAHAM, A NOVEL OF LINCOLN AND THE CIVIL WAR, paints a picture of Abraham Lincoln, a man with faults and doubts about his own abilities, but who nevertheless became President of the United States of America. Using characters that really existed, along with fictional characters, Jerome Charyn gives us a vision of Abe Lincoln the man, husband, father, and president. The book is divided into sections with dates, locations, seasons, and other helpful information to help us follow the timeline of the story. Lincoln was a modest man. He worked at odd jobs such as mending pickets and building caskets, to name a few. He dealt with the death of two of his four sons and a spunky wife determined he would be president. His presidency was during a tumultuous time in our country, when citizens were taking sides. Lincoln could not escape the war, the odor of rotting carcasses, the loss of lives, the horror of what was happening to the country. And he was helpless to stop it. Abraham Lincoln is one of my favorite presidents. The Civil War is one of my favorite eras of history. I was so excited to get to read this novel and I was not disappointed. Jerome Charyn describes each scene so vividly I almost felt as if I were there, seeing the prisoners with their wounds, experiencing the hopelessness of their situation along with them, and watching Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, grieve for her sons as she lost herself. Most of all, I see Lincoln a bit differently than I once did because the novel I AM ABRAHAM portrays the whole man Lincoln, rather than mostly his presidential years. This book would make a great addition to high school and university libraries and classrooms. It’s also an inspiring story for people who perhaps have few advantages in life to see that it’s possible they can achieve their goals. I highly recommend this novel for history lovers, teachers, and everyone interested in a good read. I was provided an ARC of this book for my honest review. ###
Regis_Schilken More than 1 year ago
What kind of mind could pen the immortal words of The Gettysburg Address? What kind of man could guide a nation knifing itself as he watched? What kind of husband could weather the eruptions of a wife battering the encroaching downward slope of lunacy? Jerome Charyn’s I Am Abraham paints a potent portrait of this gaunt, ungainly but fatherly man with words that will survive his own time. I Am Abraham is an excellent book—a true 5 star read. It was written by Abraham Lincoln’s mind! From his early years when the males of New Salem pulled him drowning, from the waters of the Sangamon River, until his last quick thoughts as an assassin’s bullet ripped his skull, author Charyn’s saga illustrates the depth, devotion, compassion and philosophical mystique of Abraham Lincoln’s thinking.  Lincoln was an ambitious man given to melancholy. As the more industrialized North became cognizant and critical of the wealthy slave-held South, even as a young man, Abraham agonized over the animalistic treatment of blacks. He witnessed the bloody slashing of their bare backs—those who dared escape tyranny. Yet, there was little he could do. Years later during the Lincoln/Douglas debates, Abraham delicately tiptoed on a tightrope afraid to lose votes on either side. If he was to steer a nation, he must win big! The greatest lie of all was that the colored man was not included in the Declaration of Independence (144). While this mental dichotomy between right and wrong might have been the main cause of Lincoln’s melancholic depression, for sure, I Am Abraham exposes another cause: his worries about his wife’s mental condition. Thoughts of committing her to a mental institution tore at his deep revered love.  I knew mother was dancing at some edge, on her velvet slippers. I didn’t want those slippers to crash—and imagine her in the mad house. (348) Mary had an inborn tendency to neurosis. When, as First Lady, her maternal instincts endured the despicable knowledge of enormous numbers of young soldiers—crying out, suffering, limbless, dead, she insisted that no son of hers would ever become “cannon fodder.” As I read I Am Abraham, I became aware of Lincoln’s faltering doubts about signing the Emancipation Proclamation. He did not want history’s judgment to show he signed the document so blacks could somehow join the anti-slavery movement to revenge the South. No, he wanted a death blow dealt to slavery itself, because it was unjust, unnatural, immoral and ungodly. He genuinely believed in the freedom for all people documented by America’s founding fathers: “… all men are created equal…. He wanted slavery suffocated because a united American people recognized it as its most heinous evil—not because blacks had to gain it for themselves. Lincoln’s deeply torn mind longed for a decisive Union battle win that was so significant that he could foresee an end to the war.  —And it happened!  It happened at tiny Gettysburg. It happened when Lee made a fatal tactical error. It happened because buoyed up important Lee tossed aside known battle engagement strategy. He dared encounter an entrenched battle line of Union troops on an upward slope. This overwhelming northern victory was the pinnacle Lincoln longed for. It finally provoked him to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. In I Am Abraham, Lincoln reveals his thoughts of replacing General George McClelland, his own appointed Commander of all Union troops. What troubled Lincoln was this: Even with an overwhelming number of fresh fully armed men, McClelland appeared to falter when battling outnumbered Lee.  Lincoln sought a general with the guts to fight—and the one man who seemed to have an increasing number of victories was Ulysses Grant. He had none of the flamboyant excesses of McClelland. Rather, he was concerned with one end—win the war and do it quickly. Eventually, Lincoln replaced McClelland with Grant who won battles by persistence and attrition of southern troops. Grant did not escape criticism! Why? The man was relentless. If he won a minor skirmish, he gave his enemy no time to recoup or regroup. Almost fanatically, he hounded the southern army with wave after wave of Union troops. There seemed to be no end to the number of youthful recruits who died in battle after battle. Not so for the South where the number of young and old, willing to fight, was quickly dwindling. I Am Abraham is a book worth reading and worth remembering. I’ve often wondered how any person could have written the unforgettable words of the Gettysburg Address. But after following the mind of Abraham Lincoln through the challenges he faced during the time period author Charyn brought to life, I now see a great man, a very great man, a towering man, a gaunt soul, a prayerful man hovering over a lantern, trying to give birth to words that would praise every soul buried at Gettysburg. Thousands upon thousands died—their early deaths rested solely on the conscience of Abraham who often wondered about his own righteousness as he stared in a mirror: I’d become a bag of bones. It was the terror on my brow—fierce and unfriendly as an open sore. My face was a silent scream that suddenly cracked open, shook the chandeliers, and shivered right through the glass (389).    This book is as unforgettable as Lincoln’s famous address. As you read it you will visit the battlefield seen through his eyes. Can you imagine the rotting horrors of a war he could have prevented by tolerating southern secession? Visualize your loathing that might exist today if you hightailed through the South knowing that the extremely wealthy still ate food offered up by the blood of their enslaved.  And how did Lincoln favor his wife—dare he keep his son Robert out of combat? Could any man stay sane under the mountain of grief and hardship this one lone man had caused because he felt it was right in the sight of our forefathers and his God.  Read this work. Keep it by your nightstand. Its haunting passages are worth reading again and again: “Forescore and seven years ago …”      
Tribute_Books_Reviews More than 1 year ago
The author's note of I AM ABRAHAM is extremely telling. Jerome Charyn starts off by saying, "I never liked Lincoln." So how did he end up embodying the voice of the sixteenth president of the United States for the course of a full-length novel? He found out they had something in common. Charyn continues, "I had a new entry point into Lincoln's life and language—my own crippling bouts of depression." It takes a tremendous amount of courage for an author to reveal something so personal when it comes to citing a means of inspiration. Kudos to Charyn for opening up about his own struggles with depression and how it colored his perception of an icon, making him human and vulnerable. This sense of camaraderie is apparent in Charyn's understanding approach to a man struggling to maintain some sense of equilibrium as the nation crashed and burned around him. After reading the book in its entirety, it's amazing how Lincoln was strong enough to hold himself together during such a period of prolonged crisis. While working his way up the political ladder as a young man in Illinois, Lincoln was overcome on multiple occasions by his mental illness that one time he didn't leave his dwelling for the entire month of January and tried to harm himself on another. But facing a war that was the bloodiest in American history, Lincoln couldn't take to his bed and shut out the world. He was the commander in chief of the Union forces. His attitude set the tone for rest of the country. Even if he wanted to run and hide from the calamity at his doorstep, he couldn't. The strain that must have placed on his psyche is hauntingly rendered by Charyn. What's even more remarkable is that Charyn shows how Lincoln didn't have much of a support system in place. His wife was mentally unstable. His eldest son never said more than two words to him, and his younger son wasn't old enough to hear about his burdens. His cabinet members bickered and quarreled among themselves. His generals were after his job. The press analyzed every move he made, and the American public was quick to cast blame for every mistake and every battle lost. Essentially, he had no one to turn to. Without any available antidepressants, psychological counseling or group therapy, it's a miracle in and of itself that he never suffered a breakdown while in office. Charyn paints Lincoln as The Great Sufferer, illustrating how much he went through over the course of a relatively short life. From his rustic, primitive childhood shackled to an abusive father to coping with year after year of poverty and failure as a penniless, uneducated man trying to rise in the ranks, it's simply incredible how Lincoln was able to achieve as much as he did with the deck so clearly stacked against him. But Charyn's writing style is sort of like looking at Lincoln with one eye closed. The book transports the reader into hallucinogenic state, like taking a hit off a joint while thumbing through unfamiliar milestones in the life of someone so famous. Charyn gets into the emotions and thoughts of Lincoln the man, the women he loved, the insecurities he harbored, the lack of driving ambition he fostered. This isn't the Lincoln of dates and battles and speeches. It's a look behind all of those facts and into the memories that might've been most important to him, instead of the way history defined him. Charyn conducts his own kind of seance with a man who inspired so many. He's one of the few able to conjure the true essence of Lincoln's soul, chiseling him out of heartfelt pathos instead of cold, hard marble. It's a beautiful and moving tribute of one melancholy mind saluting another through their shared passion for the written word. For over four hundred pages, Charyn proudly declares, "I am Abraham," and for the reader his approach is nothing short of believable.
Mn-Dragon_Lover More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was so alive with feeling. With real thought and emotion, not remotely like most fiction that is out there. It brought a more human element to history without dwelling on the cold hard facts. There was an undeniable realism to what was being said that made me feel that I was there.
THaskins More than 1 year ago
I have had respect for the 16th President of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln, since I was in Elementary School.  I always admired his perseverance, dedication to learning, desire to succeed, and refusal to give up.  When this book arrived in my mail box, I couldn't wait to open the package and get started!  They say you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover, but I have to disagree when it comes to this book. This book cover is as beautiful as the contents of the book!  This fictional story is written so well, it drove me to the internet to conduct research to separate the facts from the fiction of President Lincoln's life.   The story is written so well, I didn't want to put the book down; but with 482 pages, it took me a few days!  I would highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book-you won't be sorry! Narrated in Lincoln's own voice, the tragicomic I Am Abraham promises to be the masterwork of Jerome Charyn's remarkable career. Since publishing his first novel in 1964, Jerome Charyn has established himself as one of the most inventive and prolific literary chroniclers of the American landscape. Here in I Am Abraham, Charyn returns with an unforgettable portrait of Lincoln and the Civil War. Narrated boldly in the first person, I Am Abraham effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy, in the process creating an achingly human portrait of our sixteenth President. Tracing the historic arc of Lincoln's life from his picaresque days as a gangly young lawyer in Sangamon County, Illinois, through his improbable marriage to Kentucky belle Mary Todd, to his 1865 visit to war-shattered Richmond only days before his assassination, I Am Abraham hews closely to the familiar Lincoln saga. Charyn seamlessly braids historical figures such as Mrs. Keckley-the former slave, who became the First Lady's dressmaker and confidante-and the swaggering and almost treasonous General McClellan with a parade of fictional extras: wise-cracking knaves, conniving hangers-on, speculators, scheming Senators, and even patriotic whores. We encounter the renegade Rebel soldiers who flanked the District in tattered uniforms and cardboard shoes, living in a no-man's-land between North and South; as well as the Northern deserters, young men all, with sunken, hollowed faces, sitting in the punishing sun, waiting for their rendezvous with the firing squad; and the black recruits, whom Lincoln's own generals wanted to discard, but who play a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. At the center of this grand pageant is always Lincoln himself, clad in a green shawl, pacing the White House halls in the darkest hours of America's bloodiest war. Using biblically cadenced prose, cornpone nineteenth-century humor, and Lincoln's own letters and speeches, Charyn concocts a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief, whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and sons-Robert, Willie, and Tad-is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn's President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Period pieces are tricky. There are so many little details an author needs to get right. The diction. The etiquette. The mood. A lot of times authors fudge their way through, looking to Hollywood for inspiration. Not so with I AM ABRAHAM. Jerome Charyn provides the real deal. This is an author who certainly did his homework. He visited the battlefield at Gettysburg. He walked through the Confederate White House in Richmond. He spent time at Lincoln's summer cottage in Washington, DC. He talked with experts and chatted with National Park rangers. Retracing Lincoln's footprints, he put in the legwork. Charyn goes the extra mile to get inside Lincoln's head, and boy, does it show on the page. Nineteenth century life wasn't easy and Charyn captures that essence especially when it comes to hygiene. People walk around with blackened, decaying teeth and pockmarked faces. Women are confined to a secluded room filled with rags for their menses, even the First Lady. Breathing in the fumes of rotting bodies at Gettysburg causes the president to fall ill after delivering his famed address. Playing in the unsanitary conditions of a nearby swamp brings about the death of his son, Willie. And that's not even taking into consideration the dangers of the battlefield. In the beginning, civilians journey out to Manassas for a picnic lunch in order to watch men being slaughtered at Bull Run. The idea of war as a means of entertainment quickly vanishes as the reality holds the nation in its grip for four long years. Confederate troops don Union uniforms to confuse the enemy. Prisoners of war are either left out in the elements or assigned to rot in a glorified whore house. Southern cities are burned and looted, allowing bands of derelicts and marauders to harass widows, children and the newly freed slaves. In an era where even Lincoln rescinds habeas corpus, no one can depend on the rule of law to keep them safe. By granting Lincoln a second term, the American public sends him a definitive message to end the madness. And by naming Ulysses S. Grant the first three-star general since George Washington, Lincoln employs a killer to do it. He knows Grant has a penchant for butchery and he realizes that's what it's going to take to prevent Southern troops from fleeing to Florida and prolonging the war. Grant doesn't feel comfortable in the ballrooms and posh hotels of the Capitol. He's a man used to sleeping on the ground and crafting his dispatches amid cannon fire. He gets the job done and nothing sways the public like winning. The dramatic tension is thick between what Lincoln wants and what Lincoln needs. He's a Christian man of values, but he's also a veteran of the Black Hawk Indian War. He's an orator, as well as a warrior. He liberates the slaves with his pen, and brings the South to its knees with Sherman's March to the Sea. Using both tactics, he stems the bloodshed albeit sacrificing his own life in the process as the blood offering for the Confederacy's surrender. He didn't cause Dixie's suffering, nor did he prevent it. He's a martyr to the cause of preserving the nation, even if he approved any means necessary in order to bring it back together. Charyn fittingly has him walk through the aftermath of such destruction in the book's final chapter, before he's so brutally gunned down at Ford's Theater. Abandoning Richmond to its fate, the South sets it ablaze, leaving Lincoln with nothing more than a charred conglomeration of blacks and whites, women and children. It's a surreal scene to end a book steeped in the figments of Lincoln's imagination. He was no doubt tortured over the question if the ends justified the means. But being mortal at the time, he had no choice. Being immortal now, he's rarely second guessed. Thank you, Jerome Charyn, for reopening the argument and removing the hero lens when looking at ordinary politician placed in extraordinary circumstances.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book for what it's not - a timeline of dates, a stuffy account of battles, a dry historical tome more dissertation than entertainment. Jerome Charyn certainly surprised me with I AM ABRAHAM. It was nothing like I expected, and that element of surprise turned out to be a very good thing. It takes an author with a deft hand to strip away a reader's expectations and replace them with his own, and Charyn delivers in spades. This isn't the Honest Abe schoolchildren grow up reading about. This is the man, the myth, the legend seen through the eyes of a literary genius. A welcome treat, indeed! Being a historical fiction novel, Charyn takes some liberties. Not with the facts, so much as his interpretation of them. He does an excellent job of throwing the reader into the hardscrabble existence Lincoln eeked out when he was saved from drowning at the edge of the frontier. Conditions were horrendous and unsanitary. Livestock resided indoors and dirt floors opened up during the rainy season. To think that such a man as Lincoln climbed out of this cesspool of civilization to reign supreme is truly remarkable. After running away from an abusive father, Lincoln claws his way through disease, Indian raids and heartache to begin his political career. He clings to the written word, assured that it will bring him salvation from his bouts of depression and the sting of poverty. He canvases the greater Springfield area as a traveling lawyer, lending his talents of persuasion to local farmers seeking justice. He just doesn't make a lot of money doing it, certainly not enough to court a noteworthy bride. But Mary Todd doesn't give a hoot about his limited circumstances. She believes in his potential, forsaking her affluent Southern belle lifestyle to settle down with a man who considers her an intellectual equal. Even though the two couldn't be more different. She's loud and dramatic. He's quiet and introspective. She wants their oldest son, Bob, to be a sophisticated Harvard scholar among the upper crust of society. While he can't relate to a boy he views as a confounded stranger. They battle through the sorrow of losing two of their four children, growing apart as they try to make sense of their life in the White House. Mary enjoys being the queen bee, even if living on the public stage becomes more than she can handle. Abe isn't about winning approval ratings. He's content to let things sort themselves out, instead of stirring up trouble. But even isn't immune to living in a fishbowl as he tries to calm his wife's frayed nerves. Yet this somewhat reluctant commander in chief holds the nation together even though his home life is basically ripping apart at the seams. He sinks into a more frequent state of melancholia, plagued by the specter of death that surrounds him. The Rebel Yell sounds on the banks of the Potomac. Union firing squads execute attempted deserters within earshot. Wounded troops flood the Capitol, dragging their mangled bodies over his front lawn. Generals take to the air in hot air balloons above his roof. Spies hover around his wife's private parlor. The man is literally surrounded by chaos. But he doesn't crack, he perseveres, even when he doesn't want to. He's tired, sad and alone but he does his duty for his country. He leaves the fighting to his troops, depending on those he's placed in power. He trusts their judgement and doesn't interfere in areas outside of his expertise. But he's not afraid to shake things up by promoting people like Ulysses S. Grant or by getting his wife's biracial seamstress out of prison. He goes about his business, swatting down one problem after another. It's no wonder he gets right to the heart of the matter in the Gettysburg Address, even when he's criticized for its brevity. By that time, the poor man is so exhausted that the fewer words the better, when it comes to getting his point across. Overall, the plot is engaging and follows a linear structure right through to the end of the war at the surrender at Appomattox. The book chillingly concludes with Lincoln walking the streets of a conquered, war torn Richmond, the very seat of Confederate power. He tours the home of his counterpart, Jefferson Davis, along with his young son, Tad, looking to find any apparent similarities between him and his rival. Instead, Tad prophetically talks to his father about seeing angels through the smoke of the burned out town. Not knowing that he has just days to live before meeting an assassin's bullet, Lincoln looks back and examines his life, wondering if such things as angels exist anymore. After the death and destruction, he's witnessed he's no longer sure. Little does he realize, the whole country is about to view him as one throughout all of history.
TheCharacterConnection More than 1 year ago
Abraham Lincoln, narrator. This is a unique book for what it does, and how it does it. Author Jerome Charyn gives his own interpretation of one of the most well known figures in American history. Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. In I AM ABRAHAM, readers are treated to a glimpse inside the head of the flesh and blood man, and not the marble monument. And even though Charyn tells the story from Lincoln's point of view, it's when he bounces him off the book's other characters that his humanity comes into sharper focus. Lincoln, the lover. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his relationship with his wife, Mary. The two did not experience marital bliss by any stretch of the imagination, but their bond was an enduring one. Lincoln seems put upon much of the time by the antics of his boisterous spouse, especially after they enter the White House. Mary is depicted as a woman who is succumbing to a greater degree of mental instability and Abe is left to hold onto what's left of their relationship by his fingernails. Mary likes to fight, and she causes her husband a lot of trouble both personally and professionally. He loves her, but he comes across as a victim of her abusive nature, always trying to placate her and clean up her messes. Lincoln, the outsider. For a man who is now heralded as one of the most distinguished presidents, Lincoln probably didn't feel that way while he was in office. His Washington rival is depicted as General George McClellan, the head of the Union forces at the beginning of the war. McClellan is dashing, popular, an expert at the public relations game. In comparison, Lincoln comes across as an odd-looking politician that nobody really likes and who many feel isn't capable of the job. The image McClellan cuts riding his magnificent horse through town is the leader that inspires crowds. While Abe is the guy whose top hat makes good target practice for a Rebel sharpshooter as he totters around with his cold feet and green shawl like a grandfather in his dotage. Lincoln, the placeholder. It's amazing to think that Lincoln basically won the presidency by default. With the country on the brink of civil war, it's not a position many people wanted. He was named the Republican nominee even though many preferred the charming Stephen Douglas. When he was up for reelection in 1864, voters weren't exactly thrilled with his first term performance, especially adding his signature to the Emancipation Proclamation and for allowing the war to drag on for so long. But even with McClellan as a viable challenger, they decided to stick with the incumbent simply because they didn't feel comfortable to change canoes midstream. Holding up the mirror to Lincoln's weaknesses like this doesn't negate his strength in any way. Instead it shows just how much this man was facing on all fronts and how he managed to hold on and stay true to who he was. He didn't bend under political pressure to do the most expedient thing. He didn't change his image by improving his table manners or curtailing his backwoods accent. He didn't turn his back on his wife when she needed him most. He stayed the course and for better or worse held firm to his beliefs in what was right for himself and what was right for the country. It takes an intuitive author like Charyn to help readers see and appreciate those qualities in a man many people thought they already knew. What a brave, fresh approach to reacquainting the public with an American legend, flaws and all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a compelling story of one of the most important figures in American history, Abraham Lincoln. This historical fiction novel makes him accessible as a person of his time. His lifelong struggle with depression and his wife's mental illness made his job as president even more difficult. Reading this book, I felt like Lincoln was right there with me, telling me all that he had to go through on a daily basis. Page after page, it just got better and better. Get to know the real Lincoln, in a truly intimate look at a remarkable life.