Dr. Jessie Fields
The novel I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn adds to the literature and historical record of Lincoln’s life, layers of compassion, intimate detail, beauty and depth.
I was particularly moved by Charyn’s exploration of Lincoln’s relationship wwith his wife Mary Todd, with the soldiers who fought in the war and with African Americans.
So we went out upon these curious wards, which consisted of a narrow passage between two mountainous glass cases packed with miniature models of inventions patented at the Patent Office. (Page 269)Then a murmur broke through the silence of the ward-not the tick of a telegraph, or the flutter of wings, but that peculiar honey of the human voice when it didn’t rise up in anger. And I realized where all the lady nurses had gone; they hadn’t abandoned the hospital clinic. They stood at the end of the ward in their gray and green garb, with hymn books in their hands; accompanying them was another nurse with an accordion, and a little choral of convalescent soldiers who’d climbed out of their sick beds to sing with the nurses.” (page 271)
In the novel we learn about Elizabeth Keckly, a former slave who had worked for the wife of Jefferson Davis before Keckly came to the Lincoln White House and became the “confident and couturiere” of Mary Lincoln. Elizabeth Keckly is very close to the Lincoln family and especially to Mary and their son Tad who had a speech impediment and called her “Yip”. In a telling interaction with the President about the death of her son in the war Keckly says, “It wasn’t a sacrifice, Mr. President. If I had been younger I would have disguised myself as a man and joined his regiment. I wouldn’t have fallen in his place. That would have rubbed out the dignity of his death. He had the honor of fighting for his country, Mr. Lincoln, even if that country couldn’t recognize the worth of who he was…”. (page 214)
That steadfast determination to be full and equal participants in our nation’s democracy continues with us today.