Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders



Summary from Goodreads:

On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body.

Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel – in its form and voice – completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humour, pathos, and grace.

There are enough reviews floating around the blogosphere on this one that you’ve probably read every opinion possible on this one. The good, the bad and the ugly. I’ll let you know now: this one is alllllll goooood.

I’m a big George Saunders fan but I was concerned that his first foray into long form fiction wouldn’t stand up to his amazing short stories but this is right up my alley. Avant-garde, hilarious, touching, and intellectually engaging.

Saunders is the quintessential American writer for me and you can’t get more American than writing about Lincoln. As Goodreads so helpfully points out above, the book follows the immediate aftermath of Willie Lincoln’s death but in a delightfully strange way. The chapters alternate between pieced together historical primary resources and a strange cacophony of dead voices who populate the “bardo” (Buddhist purgatory?).

Told with Saunders’ trademark humour the novel is also terribly moving. While you can’t ignore the historical, or dismiss the darkly comical, Lincoln in the Bardo primarily operates as a meditation on grief and moving on.

Perhaps a bit strange to be to everyone’s taste I will continue to devour anything and everything that this man writes. 5/5 stars.


7 thoughts on “Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

  1. This was the first work I read by Saunders but I was blown away. I didn’t think a person could invent an entirely new genre at this point in the world, but he managed to do so. Such a strange, lovely, touching, funny book.


  2. This sounds interesting. I was thinking of waiting for the paperback, but maybe I should just buy it now. 🙂

    (Btw, I’m a Buddhist, and we don’t have purgatory, at least up to my knowledge. Bardo is the transitional state; “after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body” as Wikipedia puts it.) 😀


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