(Review) I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and The Civil War by Jerome Charyn

Publication Date: February 9, 2015
Liveright Publishing Corporation
Paperback: 480p

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 5 stars for excellent, not perfect but near perfect. 
Source: Free copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour and Liveright Publishing Corporation
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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 Thoughts: 
I've always had a fondness for Abraham Lincoln because we share the same birth date, February 12. I'm proud to tell people I was born on Abraham Lincoln's birth date. It's odd that I've never read a non-fiction book on Lincoln. A historical figure that I admire so much, you would think I'd read a biography of his life. I have read another historical fiction book on Abraham Lincoln: The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy O'Brien.  The theme of this book is in solving Lincoln's murder. 
In historical fiction, an author takes non-fiction material and creates a character to entertain readers. It is the added information an author adds that can cause problems to history purists. I make this statement, because I'm reviewing I Am Abraham, with minimal previous knowledge of Abraham Lincoln. 
I'm appreciative of the author for including his feelings on writing the story, in regards to research, intentions, goals, and creative additions. 
There are several points I love about the story: 
  • A dimensional Abraham Lincoln. Jerome Charyn covered every side of Lincoln's persona and life: politics, love of reading, childhood, unresolved feelings of inadequacy, depression, love interests, marriage, role as father, the affect of Mary's mental illness, death of children, torn feelings of the Civil War, and conflicts in his relationships.
  • Abraham Lincoln is neither seen as a completely positive person, nor a completely negative person. He is real. He is human. His strengths and weaknesses are displayed. 
  • I love love love colloquialisms. Throughout the story common sayings-Kentuckian words are used. For example: natter, bawdyhouse, et an apple, foolscap, pilferers, coffin-bed, skedaddle, and highfalutin. 
  • I did not know Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression. It is well-known Mary Lincoln had mental health issues. Living through childhood trauma, living with Mary Lincoln, decisions of the Civil War, and the death of a child, easily caused him sadness and depression. Lincoln persevered through periods of profound sadness. Now when I look at his picture, I see the sadness in his face, the sadness in his eyes. 
  • Early in the story I noticed the writing style. It began a quick pace, reminding me of Lincoln's tall walking stride (he was 6' 4.) Later in the story the pace slowed, reminding me of Lincoln's haggardness. 
  • Symbolism. It has been remarked of the scene at the end of the story. I found symbolism at the beginning, mid-point, and ending. One of my favorite spots happened on page 228. "I let her wander away, the skirts of her gown gliding against the oilcloth with a strange whish while I stayed there, in the dumps. Tad's kitten leapt onto my lap. Tabby commenced to tear at my sleeve, and pretty soon it had a tiny batch of thread in its paw-I could feel that little cat unravel me. I stuffed him in my pocket, while I was raveling out somewhere on some private moon." 
There were two aspects I did not like. 
  • I'm aware Abraham and Mary had sex at least four times because they had four sons. But it was difficult for me, or awkward, to read of Abraham lusting after Mary's nipples, or other body parts. Yes, I had pre-set ideas of what President Lincoln was like, but a sex symbol was not one of them. I know this is my hang-up. Other readers have not commented on this point. 
  • The ending does not stop at the "period" of Abraham Lincoln's life, but at a point before. It is a significant place to stop the story, but I wanted it to go a little farther. It's possible I did not want the story to even end. 

I was prepared to give a 4 star review. But this book has stayed with me over the coarse of several days after reading it. I've even dreamed about the book. Abraham Lincoln has come to life again in the pages of Charyn's book. I can easily picture Lincoln walking with his top hat. Because the book has continued to "haunt-me." I have raised to review to 5 stars for excellent (which is not perfect, but near perfect.) 

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

“Thoughtful, observant and droll.” — Richard Brookhiser, New York Times Book Review
“Not only the best novel about President Lincoln since Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in 1984, but it is also twice as good to read.” — Gabor Boritt, author of The Lincoln Enigma and recipient of the National Humanities Medal
“Jerome Charyn [is] a fearless writer… Brave and brazen… 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 allies… Placing Lincoln within the web ordinary and sometimes petty human relations is no small achievement.” — Andrew Delbanco, New York Review of Books
“Audacious as ever, Jerome Charyn now casts his novelist’s gimlet eye on sad-souled Abraham Lincoln, a man of many parts, who controls events and people—wife, sons, a splintering nation—even 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.” — Brenda Wineapple, author of Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compassion: 1848-1877
“If all historians—or any historian—could 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 book—an 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.” — Harold Holzer, chairman, Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation
“Jerome Charyn is one of the most important writers in American literature.” — Michael Chabon
“Jerome 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.” — Jonathan Lethem
“Charyn, like Nabokov, is that most fiendish sort of writer—so seductive as to beg imitation, so singular as to make imitation impossible.” — Tom Bissell
“One of our most intriguing fiction writers takes on the story of Honest Abe, narrating the tale in Lincoln’s voice and offering a revealing portrait of a man as flawed as he was great.” — Abbe Wright, O, The Oprah Magazine
“Jerome Charyn, like Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg’s superb 2012 movie, manages a feat of ventriloquism to be admired… Most of all, Lincoln comes across as human and not some remote giant… 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.” — Erik Spanberg, Christian Science Monitor
“Daring… Memorable… Charyn’s richly textured portrait captures the pragmatism, cunning, despair, and moral strength of a man who could have empathy for his bitterest foes, and who ‘had never outgrown the forest and a dirt floor.’” — The New Yorker

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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


  1. I adored your review, your honest assessment and the fact that you adjusted your impression when the novel "haunted" your dreams. No reviewer has ever admitted just that - and the very same thibg happened to me. I will pass your review on to my friend, the author (he also wrote the haunting "Secret Life of Emily Dickinson.") -- Thank you, Lenore Riegel


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