Lincoln in the Bardo
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE
The “devastatingly moving” (People) first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented
Named One of Paste’s Best Novels of the Decade • Named One of the Ten Best Books of the Year by The Washington Post, USA Today, and Maureen Corrigan, NPR • One of Time’s Ten Best Novels of the Year • A New York Times Notable Book • One of O: The Oprah Magazine’s Best Books of the Year
February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.
From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
“A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.”—Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review
“A masterpiece.”—Zadie Smith
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
George Saunders’ Man Booker Prize-winning novel has all the hallmarks of his beloved short stories: inventive language, sparkling wit, and dashes of heartache. But Lincoln in the Bardo is really odd and pretty much unlike anything else we’ve read before. Revolving around a true event—the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son, Willie, who passed away while Lincoln was president—the story takes place in the graveyard where Willie is interred. As dozens of ghosts fight for the salvation of the boy’s soul (and their own), Saunders stuns with his iconoclastic blend of historical fact, lyrical imagination, and searching spirituality.
Saunders's (Tenth of December) mesmerizing historical novel is also a moving ghost story. A Dantesque tour through a Georgetown cemetery teeming with spirits, the book takes place on a February night in 1862, when Abraham Lincoln visits the grave of his recently interred 11-year-old son, Willie. The distraught Lincoln's nocturnal visit has a "vivifying effect" on the graveyard's spectral denizens, a gallery of grotesques who have chosen to loiter "in the Bardo" a Tibetan term for a liminal state rather than face final judgment. Among this community, which is still riven by racial and class divisions, are Roger Bevins III, who slashed his wrists after being spurned by a lover, and Hans Vollman, a "wooden-toothed forty-six-year-old printer" struck in the head by a falling beam shortly after marrying his young wife. As irritable, chatty, and bored in their purgatory as Beckett characters, Bevins and Vollman devote themselves to saving Willie from their fate: "The young ones," Bevins explains, "are not meant to tarry." Periodically interrupting the graveyard action are slyly arranged assemblies of historical accounts of the Lincoln era. These excerpts and Lincoln's anguished musings compose a collage-like portrait of a wartime president burdened by private and public grief, mourning his son's death as staggering battlefield reports test his (and the nation's) resolve. Saunders's enlivening imagination runs wild in detailing the ghosts' bizarre manifestations, but melancholy is the novel's dominant tone. Two sad strains, the spirits' stubborn, nostalgic attachment to the world of the living and Lincoln's monumental sorrow, make up a haunting American ballad that will inspire increased devotion among Saunders's admirers.
Lincoln in the Bardo
Definition of bardo-
The intermediate or astral state of the soul after death and before rebirth.
“Lincoln in the Bardot” is a weighty novel of historical fiction that speaks of Abraham Lincoln the president, Lincoln the man and Abraham Lincoln the father.
The story is told by graveyard souls (in other words: ghosts) waiting to move on from the astral plane on which they have been stuck. Some have been awaiting rebirth for a long time, others have just arrived. The newest member is President Lincoln’s young son Willie who died of Typhoid: he has been brought to a cemetery crypt in his “sick box” (in other words, a coffin). What follows is a combined effort of souls to get Willie to his rebirth and his dad back to the White House and the Civil War.
The book is full of sadness mixed with dark humor. Because of the historic quotes the author weaves into the rhythm of the story, the book can be both brilliant and hard to follow.
...But mostly brilliant.
Lincoln in the Bardo
I would give this book 100 stars if I could. It was so touching and beautiful and such an incredibly original way to humanize Lincoln even more than our history already makes him. I didn’t want it to end. Can’t wait to read more by this author and am praying the next novel will be 1/10 as good as this.
I just finished this book. It is a masterpiece of prose, originality, and construction. I couldn’t possibly do justice with a review, so here’s a quote:
“His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state of grief, he could be of no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.”
BUY THIS BOOK.