Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

A Novel

Book - 2017
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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.
Publisher: New York : Random House, 2017.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780812995343
Branch Call Number: FIC Saund
Characteristics: 341 pages ; 25 cm.

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KateHillier May 14, 2018

That was an experience of a book. The format takes a little bit of getting used to but once I found my rhythm it was smooth sailing. Aside from the pain and gutpunching that the entire story as a whole is. Abraham Lincoln's young son, Willie, has died. He finds himself in an inbetween place with ... Read More »


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j
Jeannine_1
Jun 22, 2019

October 2019

f
fionajay
May 22, 2019

Shortlisted for the 2019 International Dublin Literary Award.

h
HujeBohoc
Apr 26, 2019

George Saunders has to be commended for trying something new in this novel: it's the story of Abraham Lincoln's 11-year old son, Willie, who dies and ends up in some sort of in-between world, the "Bardo". The novel's originality is that it is told by dozens of characters who are also in the Bardo.
I was not completely convinced with this form of writing, but the novel is extremely moving at times, especially when we witness Abraham Lincoln's absolute devastation after his son's death. It is impossible for a reader with a heart, especially if you have a child who is Willie's age, to stay indifferent.

w
Waluconis
Mar 13, 2019

George Saunders' novels are always unique. This concerns itself with the after-life, termed the Bardo in the Tibetan Book of the Dead ("Bardo Thodol". That book is not mentioned in this novel, but it is the immediate after-life, where souls can be stuck. Here it is located in a cemetery with many souls involved, some of whom have been there for some time. They move through the landscape and interact in a manner that is at least partially - Dante meets Samuel Beckett. The way that all directly express themselves reminds one of Dante, even though they all do not know they will not return to that "previous place", as it is called. But in this case their feeling of hopelessness has dialogue like the characters in a Beckett play. "Nothing to be done" from "Waiting for Godot" turns into "Nothing to be done about it. Nothing ever to have been done about it." But hold on - what about Lincoln? Well, he and his son who has just died are at the heart of the story. Lincoln's grief is so strong that it extends his connection to his son into the afterlife. The material realities of the world are presented in a matter-of-fact way with cited quotations of primary source material from the time period. This makes an interesting contrast with the souls who have trouble moving on from a lost life that was in most cases violent and disturbing. The dispossessed, the lost, those who died in the 19th century, grief, anxieties, hopes, wishes, aspirations - Saunders pulls all these together in a convincing and unforgettable way. I also enjoyed listening to the Audio book, which has many readers (including the author and David Sedaris) to read all of the voices and historical quotations. It was very helpful in making one's way through the many voices and bringing the novel closer to us.

DBRL_IdaF Mar 11, 2019

In 1862, President Lincoln makes middle of the night visits to the crypt where his beloved young son, Willy, lies interred. Willy and his father stir things up for the spirits inhabiting the cemetery. Most of the story is told from the point of view of the spirits who have not been able to move on, for one reason or another. There are shades of Spoon River Anthology, as we learn a lot about the lives of the cemetery residents through their alternating narration.

In a fascinating literary technique, scenes outside the cemetery are formed using stitched-together historical quotes about Lincoln and the times. Some of the quotes contradict each other, yet Saunders manages to create a coherent narrative from them.

Worth the read. Humor and heartbreak in equal measures, about like life.

s
spudwil
Jan 14, 2019

Once I got through the first 100 pages or so and figured out what was going on, I quite liked it. It's very different from just about every book I've ever read. There is even quite a bit of humour in it, as well as many other emotions.

h
Huntsville1
Jan 13, 2019

2017 Man Booker Prize Winner
Very interesting; references to Life, Death, Afterlife all woven together on the occasion of the death of President Abraham Lincoln's son, William Wallace Lincoln.
Definitely worth reading: reflective & philosophically significant.

g
Gigi76
Nov 28, 2018

Excellent! Both moving with great pathos and outrageously bawdy. Made me curious to learn more about Lincoln and the Buddhist concept of bardo.

c
Carolwagers
Nov 11, 2018

I'm having trouble forcing myself to finish this book. I would have given up much earlier except that it's the selection for my Tuesday night book group.

JCLChrisK Oct 17, 2018

Strange, fascinating, moving, disturbing, challenging, poignant, and human. Oh, so very human.

This is a book that delves deep into the human condition and the particular human penchant for storytelling. It presents a myriad cast of characters, each obsessed with his or her own story. With telling it to others. And to living it out, over and over. They are stuck in their stories. Limited by them. Blinded by them. Stories of regret, sorrow, and unfinished lives. Unhappy stories.

Altogether, the chorus of voices communicates the complexities, the at times confusing paradoxical intricacies, of humanness. Though it can be a painful struggle at times to wade through the requisite suffering, there is balancing hope, joy, and compassion as a reward.

The audio production is laudable and impressive.

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LThomas_Library
May 05, 2018

Other: Topics: Death, super natural.

l
LThomas_Library
May 05, 2018

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Intense empathetic scenes.

l
LThomas_Library
May 05, 2018

Coarse Language: Moderate language.

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LThomas_Library
May 04, 2018

LThomas_Library thinks this title is suitable for 17 years and over

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JCLChrisK Oct 17, 2018

All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be. It was the nature of things. Though on the surface it seemed every person was different, this was not true. At the core of each lay suffering; our eventual end, the many losses we must experience on the way to that end. We must try to see one another in this way. As suffering, limited beings, perennially outmatched by circumstances, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces.

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