Monday, February 3, 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

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.

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Excerpt

Click this link to read an excerpt.

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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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4 comments:

  1. I am definitely putting this on my trl. thanks for the opportunity. I doln't have the Social Media requests for entry but you never know. :)
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

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    1. I hope you get to read it, Carol. It's one you'll definitely enjoy! :)

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  2. This sounds fascinating and it's definitely going on my list!

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    1. Excellent, Beth. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on it! :)

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