Friday, February 28, 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

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.



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. Victoria, thanks for the review! You hit on so many great points :)

  2. I truly enjoyed your review. I especially love the way you deal with that amazing trip Lincoln actually took to Richmond, just days before he was assassinated. And he took his 12-yera-old son! As the Director of Jeff Davis's home, which was the Confederate White House, told us himself when we personally visited (it is now a landmark), "he came as a peacemaker." No other president, no other man would have done that - and Lincoln did it to show the South they would not be dismantled. If he had only lived, perhaps we would not be fighting some of the same battles in this country today . . .

    1. I love how Jerome actually visited these places himself. Really adds an extra dimension to the book!