Review by Ryder Islington, Author of ULTIMATE JUSTICE, A Trey Fontaine Mystery

I was pleasantly surprised to be so drawn into this story that I had to stop and remind myself that this was not a first person account of history. Imagine sitting by a stone fireplace with a cup of your favorite drink, listening to the tall, bearded president tell you his life’s story. The characters are plentiful, and individual, and the description is sometimes painted in broad strokes, and at other times, detailed by a fine brush.

I would recommend this book to all those who love historical drama, as well as those who just enjoy a good yarn.

Below you’ll find a summary of I AM ABRAHAM, as well as Mr. Charyn’s bio. There are also all kinds of links for purchasing the book, and reading other reviews, and maybe even an interview or two.

abraham cover

I Am Abraham Book Summary:

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.


Jerome Charyn’s Bio:

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.

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BOOK REVIEW: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Review by Ryder Islington

Another of Ken Follett’s epic historicals. At 973 pages in the paperback version, it’s a hefty read. But it’s worth it.

Set in the 12th century, the story revolves around the people involved in a small town where a cathedral is to be built. It doesn’t take long to get attached to those with soft hearts, and to really hate those who are cruel. Tom Builder and his family roam southern England as he searches for work. Near starvation, or death from exposure, they meet a Ellen and her teen son, Jack, in the forest.  When Tom’s wife dies in childbirth, he buries her and leaves the child, who is later saved by a monk. Again, he and his children come across Ellen and Jack, and the five of them find Kingsbridge and Prior Philip, who has great dreams of rebuilding the cathedral into something grand.

Politics, religion, sex, love, war, peace, deceit, murder, conspiracy, clerics, builders, takers, users and abusers, and strong women and faithful men fill the book with believable plot lines.

For those of you who love historicals, and those who just love epic stories, this is a great read.

BOOK REVIEW: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

Review by Ryder islington

I love this series, and this book is one of the best. Diana Gabaldon is able to whisk the reader away to a distant past where we love and hate characters, and miss them terribly when the book ends.
In this book of the series, the characters find themselves on the North American continent just before the Revolutionary War, where they face religious prejudice, Indians, bears, mountain men, pre-war battles, and others harrowing adventures.

As usual, Claire and Jaime fight side-by-side, when they aren’t fighting each other. They create a home, gather followers, fight off those who would take what they have, and worry about the future that Claire is so sure will come.

So much happens in this book that I could write ten thousand words about it and there would still be lots of surprises for the reader. This series is so good that our little private book club here in town is planning on starting the whole series over in January of next year. By the time we’ve finished, the newest book will have been published and arrived at the local library, with plenty of time for others to read it. So, we won’t have to be limited to two weeks of reading time because there’s a list of others waiting!

Do doubt I will ultimately own this entire series and read it several times over the coming years. It’s that good.