I Am Abraham Review and Reader’s Guide

March 5, 2015 Whitney Review 0 Comments

I received this book for free from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I Am Abraham Review and Reader’s GuideI Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn
Published by Liveright Publishing Corporation on February 3, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

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.

Fond Of

  • You can’t exactly say I am Abraham was filled with twists and turns as Lincoln’s story is very well-known, but the way it was told was interesting. Told in small vignettes that wove seamlessly together.
  • The novel didn’t drag with reminisces from his childhood rather moving to his old years and didn’t linger too long on each point. Hitting the major developments at an enjoyable pace.
  • There was also a focus on his family life and liked the personal touch it added instead solely focusing on the Gettysburg Address.


Not Fond Of

  • On the same token, as much as I liked reading of the Lincoln family, at times I felt that too large a focus was given to Mary Todd Lincoln and her illness, almost feeling as if the novel were about her instead of Honest Abe.


Final Thoughts

The novel’s ending felt cut short which was a bit frustrating but then again so was Abraham Lincoln’s life so it felt like an adequate conclusion, all things considering. Overall, with fluid, eloquent storytelling, Jerome Charyn’s novel met my anticipation and then some.

Reader’s Guide

1.  I love historical fiction novels that move me to learn more on the subject after finishing a novel.  After completing I Am Abraham did you feel compelled to learn more on the civil war, the 16th President et cetera, why or why not?

2. As a follow-up, if you are knowledgeable in the era, history of the novel’s subject matter how true to the fact did you think it was?

3.  It has been written that Abraham Lincoln suffered from “Melancholy” and his wife was later institutionalized by her son Robert.  Do you think noting these two health concerns added to the novel or that it was an accurate portrayal if said reader is educated in the subject?

4. Charyn, wrote Lincoln’s language as a good Kentucky boy who pronounced theater  theyator do you think this added the story and/or character development?

5. Did the characters, or your feelings for them change over time?  For example, I felt Robert drastically changed his stripes by the novels end.

6. While the ending is well-known did you find the author’s interpretation of it satisfying?

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

ìThoughtful, observant and droll.î ó Richard Brookhiser, New York Times Book Review ìNot only the best novel about President Lincoln since Gore Vidalís Lincoln in 1984, but it is also twice as good to read.î ó Gabor Boritt, author of The Lincoln Enigma and recipient of the National Humanities Medal ìJerome Charyn [is] a fearless writerÖ Brave and brazenÖ The book is daringly imagined, written with exuberance, and with a remarkable command of historical detail. It gives us a human Lincoln besieged by vividly drawn enemies and alliesÖ Placing Lincoln within the web ordinary and sometimes petty human relations is no small achievement.î ó Andrew Delbanco, New York Review of Books ìAudacious as ever, Jerome Charyn now casts his novelistís gimlet eye on sad-souled Abraham Lincoln, a man of many parts, who controls events and peopleówife, sons, a splintering nationóeven though they often are, as they must be, beyond his compassion or power. Brooding, dreamlike, resonant, and studded with strutting characters, I Am Abraham is as wide and deep and morally sure as its wonderful subjects.î ó Brenda Wineapple, author of Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compassion: 1848-1877 ìIf all historiansóor any historianócould write with the magnetic charm and authoritative verve of Jerome Charyn, American readers would be fighting over the privilege of learning about their past. They can learn much from this bookóan audacious, first-person novel that makes Lincoln the most irresistible figure of a compelling story singed with equal doses of comedy, tragedy, and moral grandeur. Here is something beyond history and approaching art.î ó Harold Holzer, chairman, Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation ìJerome Charyn is one of the most important writers in American literature.î ó Michael Chabon ìJerome Charyn is merely one of our finest writers with a polymorphous imagination and crack comic timing. Whatever milieu he chooses to inhabit, his characters sizzle with life, and his sentences are pure vernacular music, his voice unmistakable.î ó Jonathan Lethem ìCharyn, like Nabokov, is that most fiendish sort of writeróso seductive as to beg imitation, so singular as to make imitation impossible.î ó Tom Bissell ìOne of our most intriguing fiction writers takes on the story of Honest Abe, narrating the tale in Lincolnís voice and offering a revealing portrait of a man as flawed as he was great.î ó Abbe Wright, O, The Oprah Magazine ìJerome Charyn, like Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielbergís superb 2012 movie, manages a feat of ventriloquism to be admiredÖ Most of all, Lincoln comes across as human and not some remote giantÖ With that, Jerome Charyn has given Lincoln a most appropriate present for what would have been his 205th birthday this month: rebirth not as a marble memorial but as a three-dimensional human who overcame much to save his nation.î ó Erik Spanberg, Christian Science Monitor ìDaringÖ MemorableÖ Charynís richly textured portrait captures the pragmatism, cunning, despair, and moral strength of a man who could have empathy for his bitterest foes, and who ëhad never outgrown the forest and a dirt floor.íî ó The New Yorker

Jack Ford presents the new Lincoln novel by Jerome Charyn

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03_Jerome Charyn_Author Photo 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. For more information please visit Jerome Charyn’s website. You can also find him on Twitter and Goodreads.

I Am Abraham Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, February 9 Review at Flashlight Commentary  
Tuesday, February 10 Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary  
Wednesday, February 11 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past  
Thursday, February 12 Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book  
Friday, February 13 Spotlight at What Is That Book About  
Monday, February 16 Review & Excerpt at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus  
Tuesday, February 17 Interview & Giveaway at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews  
Wednesday, February 18 Review at Back Porchervations  
Thursday, February 19 Spotlight at A Literary Vacation  
Friday, February 20 Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books  
Saturday, February 21 Spotlight at Historical Readings & Reviews  
Monday, February 23 Interview & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews  
Tuesday, February 24 Audio Book Review & Interview at Just One More Chapter  
Wednesday, February 25 Review at Bookish  
Thursday, February 26 Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection  
Monday, March 2 Review at Forever Ashley
Tuesday, March 3 Interview at Books and Benches  
Wednesday, March 4 Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes  
Thursday, March 5 Review & Reader’s Guide at She is Too Fond of Books  
Friday, March 6 Review at Impressions in Ink

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