Lincoln in the Bardo
By George Saunders
Random House, 9780812995343, February 2017, 368pp.
The Short of It:
A unique and touching story about the loss of a child and what happens next.
The Rest of It:
Young Willie Lincoln dies at a very young age, leaving his father, President Lincoln and his mother Mary, to grieve over his loss.
Willie’s spirit will not leave the cemetery in which he was interred, accompanied by others who have chosen to do the same. For one reason or another, they can’t seem to move out of this “bardo” into the next life yet they all vow to help young Willie because the thought of an innocent child spending eternity in such a grim place, is too much for these characters to bear.
Lincoln in the Bardo includes some very interesting, and sometimes even playful characters and almost reads like a play except that characters express the thoughts and feelings of other characters instead of themselves which takes a little getting used to. But after that, I found myself completely wrapped-up in the story of this young boy trying to find his way.
Things you should know:
- You won’t learn much about President Lincoln from this novel.
- Many of the works cited are fictional.
- There are a lot of characters (160+)
- Even though the afterlife is discussed, no one religion is emphasized.
- You will be Googling for Civil War facts while reading, but I suggest you read first and Google later.
- It helps to have a basic understanding of the Bardo and what it is.
Lincoln in the Bardo is beautifully written. I highlighted many sentences and I don’t often do that. The subject matter is somewhat somber but it’s lightened-up by the playfulness of the characters. It’s tragic in that these characters can never correct their mistakes and as a result live forever in regret but it has stayed with me long after finishing it and the image of these spirits spending eternity in the cemetery is haunting. Check out this virtual reality experience to get a feel for what I am talking about:
Go to this page and scroll down to the bottom to view. Once there, click around to explore.
I know some readers are divided over the book but I loved it and my book club had plenty to discuss when we met. I plan to buy a copy as soon as the paperback comes out in February.
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