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 returned to the crypt several times alone 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 thrilling, 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--living and dead, historical and invented--to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2017]
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780812985405
0812985400
9780812995343
0812995341
Characteristics: 341 pages ; 24 cm

Opinion

From Library Staff

This is easily one of the most creative books I've read AND listened to. I really recommend both the written book and the audiobook. It uses a mix of non-fiction source material and fictional characters to tell the story of Willie Lincoln's death and his father's visit to his resting place. The b... Read More »


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agentlemuse
Oct 15, 2018

I really thought I was going to love this book and it just let me down. Maybe my expectations were too high but I was so not into it that I abandoned the read half way through.

NorthPlains_BriannaS Oct 06, 2018

The audiobook version is wonderful with a full cast of 166 different narrators, although it takes a little while to get used to the footnotes.

r
rogebc_0
Sep 30, 2018

The undead in the Bardo tell their stories as Willie Lincoln arrives - they do not know they are dead and they are afraid of the transition to eternity. Their story is interlaced with real and fictional quotes of the times - the tragedy of the civil war, of Willie's death and Lincoln's grief. And a philosophy of life that drives the story.

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Brontina66
Aug 29, 2018

I had heard a lot about this book and it was also recommended to me by a friend who works in the world of movies, so I had high expectations (not for the rave reviews, though, I have learnt to be cautious with them, but for my friend's opinion). It is an "experimental novel" due to the particular narrative style. Young Will, one of Lincoln's sons, dies and is temporarily brought to a cemetery in Georgetown. Here his father, unable to let him go, visits him and holds his corpse (true story). This is the main plot, but it gets more interesting, because the story is mostly told by several ghosts, who inhabit the cemetery and do their best to convince Will's spirit to leave and reach the other side, the proper place for him. Lincoln's love and desperation keep Will anchored to the wrong dimension, the cemetery, and the other specters tell us their stories while slowly helping the boy to move on. As I said before, the narrative style is unusual. Different ghosts pronounce parts of the same sentence, as if they were different voices of the same mind. The graphic reminded me of a play, because the names of the characters appear near what they say. I have to admit, it was a bit tiring, because of course I am used to a more flowing narrative and there are 166 characters here, but the final impression was that of a chorus, like in the Greek tragedies. Although I personally would not define this book one of the best that I have read, it is certainly very original and moving. Bardo is an intermediate space between death and rebirth in Buddhism, somehow like the Catholic Purgatory but with much less pain, it seems, from where the dead observe the living. If you have seen the play "Kodachrome" by Adam Szymkowicz you get an idea. Although there is lot of pain and loss, as well as regret, in the book, the final message is one of hope. Life doesn't end with death and the people we love are never really lost. It's not an easy book to read, but a sort of challenge, not only of our skills as readers but also as human beings.

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ellenmaki
Aug 16, 2018

This was a clever novel, nicely put together from letters and histories about Lincoln of the time, interwoven with the voices of the dead who refuse to accept death. It all takes place in the cemetery where Lincoln's child, Will, is taken to be interred. I didn't quite get the metaphor of the ghosts, during reading, but I figure now they represent the aspect of our culture that denies death so strenuously that it impairs their ability to live.

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TechWriter1
Aug 14, 2018

If you like Lincoln in the Bardo, try Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters and Our Town by Thornton Wilder. They all provide perspectives on life, for the living, by those who have passed. Enjoy your days, moment by moment. Do not dwell upon them but do take time to reflect now and then.

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eappelbaum
Jul 22, 2018

I enjoyed the book, but not as much as other works by this author--hard to follow. The ghosts denying death reminded me of many people who deny the obvious.,

Oddly composed of snippets of this and that, but I'm still at the beginning and a bit derailed by the over-the-top lavish state banquet, with all the exquisite confections and entrees, on the same night that Willie dies.

Later: Those who speak are in neither heaven nor hell, but caught by their own unsettled minds where their remains are buried. Stubbornly self-engrossed and unresolved, they find Lincoln's presence a very welcome respite. But demons dwell there too. A compelling work that still stays in my mind.

Kris--PR Library

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talk2terih
Jun 13, 2018

As Salieri said of Mozart's music in the film Amadeus "This was something entirely new."

Every now and then, a piece of art emerges that forces to rethink how we define that particular genre. Picasso, Pollock, Manet, Seurat, all put forth paintings in styles previously unknown, e e Cummings caused us to view poetry in a new way, and as Salieri observed, Mozart gave us music that was entirely new.

With this book, George Saunders has expanded our definition of what constitutes a novel, a fictional work of literature. It is difficult to find our way at times in this book, but that is noone' s fault. We are breaking new ground and that is an effort that goes slowly. The writing, if odd, is beautifully crafted. The ideas of the aftetlife, if unusual, are beautifully described. And the grief of Mr. Lincoln for his dead son is so raw and immediate, you feel as though you should turn away from witnessing such an intimate moment.

This book is the heir to Master's Spoon River Anthology, itself a groundbreaking play. If that work appealed to you at all, give this one a go and bring an open mind. I am guessing that you, like me, will never define the novel in quite the same way after reading this book.

bibliotom May 19, 2018

I have gleaned from experts on TV that ghosts are spirits of the dead who can't move on to the next plane of existence. In this way they are perfect exemplars of the Buddhist problem of attachment, the universal neurosis that is the unspoken subject of Saunders' novel. The "ghosts" here are stuck in the bardo because they won't let go of something in their lives, and in this way they are more like living human beings than the dead. The key to their escape from this perpetual twilight is compassion. There is no mention of Buddha in this book, but it's a wonderful example of how buddhism works in the real world, as imaginary and imaginative as this graveyard bardo is.

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LThomas_Library
May 05, 2018

Other: Topics: Death, super natural.

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LThomas_Library
May 05, 2018

Frightening or Intense Scenes: Intense empathetic scenes.

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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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