Monday, July 3, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

    • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
    • Published February 14, 2017
    • Author of several collections of short stories including Tenth of December and In Persuasion Nation.
    • This is the author's first full-length novel.

    • The story is based on contemporary reports that Abraham Lincoln visited the cemetery where his eleven-year-old son Willie had been buried after his death on February 20, 1862. Lincoln was reported to have gone back to hold and talk to his son's body.
    • The novel takes place over a single night, February22, 1862, when Lincoln visits his son's body. Willie, meanwhile, still exists in the bardo, a Tibetan word meaning "intermediate state".
      • He is ready to go on but pauses when he sees his father. When his father leaves he decides to stay until Lincoln returns.
    • There are a cast of many others in the graveyard, those who have not gone on, and in most cases do not know they are dead. They tell their own stories while trying to get young Willie to move on to the next place but also fascinated with the reality of Lincoln coming in and touching his son.

    • I heard about this book and wasn't sure what to think. The premise sounds odd and the format of the book is different than a typical novel.
      • The dialogue is written more like that of a play, which makes sense, as characters in the cemetery come in and out as the story requires.
    • I thought: This could be one of those over-hyped books that end up being pretentious and irritating!
      • I was wrong and I really enjoyed it!
      • That said, I think some readers will think this book IS pretentious and irritating. 
    • The stories of the ghosts (not a term used in the novel) are affecting and you understand their lives, their deaths and their struggles in the afterlife/bardo. The relationship between Lincoln and his son is affecting as well.
    • The story is about grief so it's not for everyone even ignoring the novel's unusual format.
    • There are moments of levity during the story. It's not an ultra-depressing tale but there is a palpable sadness infused throughout.
    • Recommended for those who enjoy stories about Abraham Lincoln, the 1800s and who might appreciate what amounts to a meditation on grief.
    • ★ ★ ★ ★


  1. Did you see that "Bardo" was a Jeopardy answer last week?? I was very excited to get that one right, as I know little about Buddhism and was not doing well in the category, as I recall.

    1. I had never heard the term "bardo" until this book came out. I thought it was the name of a theater or a museum (thinking of the Prado maybe?). Or even a location, like the Riviere or the Amalfi coast. And natch, I got that Jeopardy clue right too!