I Am Abraham: A Novel of Lincoln and the Civil War
I AM ABRAHAM, a compelling fictional account of the 16th President of the United States, reads like a diary of his life. Lincoln bewitches his audience with homespun tales and deep convictions, his vulnerabilities laid bare for all to witness.
Beginning with a prologue at the time of his assassination, the storyline gets underway when the young Lincoln is rescued from drowning in the river, taking up residence in tiny New Salem, Illinois. His growth into manhood begins there, and he works numerous jobs: as a woodcutter, coffin maker, hardware clerk, struggling legal advocate and avid reader.
During his educational years in New Salem, Lincoln is involved in life-changing events. He meets and falls in love with local beauty Ann Rutledge, a union difficult to finalize because her father has no use for an itinerate woodsman. Although the attraction is mutual, they must endure circumstances out of their control, with an ill-fated conclusion. Lincoln becomes interested in politics at the local level, becoming a Republican representative in the Illinois legislature. There, his accomplishments are ordinary, but his penchant for storytelling rewards him with acclaim.
"I AM ABRAHAM is masterfully penned and should deserve acclaim for its polished presentation."
Back home in New Salem, Lincoln endures a period of intense melancholy over the loss of Ann. He finds uncommon solace in the backwoods encampment of a rough bunch of guys led by a fellow named Jack. The boys from Clary’s Grove take him in, heal him and lead him out of his “blue unholies,” long stretches of depression that will plague him throughout his life.
Becoming more involved in politics, Lincoln sympathizes with those in the Northern states who fight against slavery in the South. He continually stands in amazement when he is thrust onto the political scene, first in debates with Stephen Douglas, then finally as a candidate for the presidency. War looms on the horizon and is declared when Jefferson Davis proclaims himself to be President of the Confederacy. While battling with his own cabinet about policies, Lincoln marries Mary Todd of Kentucky, who is both revered and despised as the Lady President.
Author Jerome Charyn boldly charges into the private lives of the Lincolns, induced by experiences in his own life. Mary Todd suffers from severe bouts of depression, raging scenes of violence and public displays of anger. Her insecurities become masked by personnel-bashing, temper tantrums and cold indifference to both men and women she views as threats. Lincoln, meanwhile, often seems inadequate to deal with his wife’s temporary insanities. He is perplexed by her obsession with son Robert’s future. Tad, their youngest boy, is allowed to rule the White House, running wild throughout. Today, one might see the family as being completely out of control.
Speaking from the first-person narrative, Lincoln becomes a reality one can feel, see, hear and visualize, both in glory as the Commander-in-Chief and as a man attempting to hold his errant wife in check. Charyn allows the reader into Lincoln’s thoughts and feelings with empathy for the very humanity he represents. Numerous authors have written well-documented and well-received novels and nonfiction accounts of Lincoln’s life and presidency. However, this book explores the heart and mind of the man, exposing both his strengths and weaknesses.
Perhaps this melancholy personality was the sole leader who could guide the nation through one of its most desperate times. He alone could understand both the heights and depths of human joy and grief. I AM ABRAHAM is masterfully penned and should deserve acclaim for its polished presentation. Now more than ever, Lincoln is an irresistible figure in American history.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on February 28, 2014