Monday, February 24, 2014

Jerome Charyn - I Am Abraham - Review and Giveaway

About the Book

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.

My Review

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.



Click this link to read an excerpt.


I Am Abraham can be purchased at:
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Prices/Formats: $12.99-$14.99 ebook, $26.95 hardcover
Pages: 464
ISBN: 9780871404275
Publisher: Liveright
Release: February 3, 2014
Click to add to your Goodreads list.

About the Author

Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With nearly 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life. Michael Chabon calls him "one of the most important writers in American literature." New York Newsday hailed Charyn as "a contemporary American Balzac,"and the Los Angeles Times described him as "absolutely unique among American writers." Since the 1964 release of Charyn's first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published 30 novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year. Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has been named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. Charyn was Distinguished Professor of Film Studies at the American University of Paris until he left teaching in 2009. In addition to his writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top 10 percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn's book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong." Charyn lives in Paris and New York City.

Links to connect with Jerome:
Web Site
Facebook (author)
Twitter (author)
Goodreads (author)
Facebook (book)
Twitter (book)
Goodreads (book)
Blog Tour Site

About the Giveaway

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1 comment:

  1. Connie, thanks for the review! I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)