Tuesday, February 11, 2014
I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn
Abraham had nothing with which to make his way except his own willingness to work and scrap by. He fought as a young man to get an education, thwarted whenever possible by his father. He makes his living however he can with various occupations moving towards the occupation of being a lawyer and a circuit judge. His poverty means that he is not accepted in the higher circles of society and that suits him just fine, as he is uncomfortable around such people and their lives. He goes to parties and dinners occasionally, and meets Mary Todd. Against the objections of her family, he woos and wins her; their marriage blessed with four sons.
As he moves into politics, Lincoln finds his issue. He rails against slavery leading to the creation of the Republican party. When he is elected President it is not a popular move with the Southern states who promptly succeed, leaving Lincoln to start his Presidency with the biggest, most divisive war in the country's history.
Lincoln remained an outsider. Although Mary craves social prestige, Lincoln is never comfortable in society functions. He has to fight not only those states openly against him, but several of his generals who think they could lead the country more effectively. One, General McClellan, is the darling of the social scene, but Lincoln is the man who can move the war forward, even as the actions he must take eat away at him.
There is little solace at home. Mary, always headstrong, moves further and further into an alternate world with the loss of two of their sons to illness over the years. She vainly attempts to be a social leader but is only tolerated by society and an easy prey to those who would use her station to further their own plans. Lincoln is loyal to her even as she attempts to undermine him.
But it is the war that consumes him. He hates the carnage, the necessity for actions that eat at his soul. The need for generals like Grant who are killers rather than just military strategists. The necessity of starving the Southern populace and unleashing men like Sherman on them. The Friday shooting squads who make an example of deserters, many only boys no older than his own sons. But he must do whatever it takes to win the war because he believes that slavery is the ultimate evil that will destroy the nation he loves.
This is a towering work. The reader gets an intimate view of Lincoln different from the storybook tales that are told in history classes. He emerges as a tortured man who found the backbone and willpower to push the nation forward to a new way where one man does not own another. Of course Lincoln paid the ultimate price for his vision and his efforts to forge a country united and free of slavery. This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and for those curious about the man behind the legends.