Monday, February 19, 2018

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders

Find out more about this book and author:

Published: 2017
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical, Literary
Hardback: 368
Rating: 4

First sentence(s):
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

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?

My two-bits:

At first I tried listening to the audio version for this because of its all-star cast. But I found it hard to follow along with the many resource references for the short bursts of text. I found reading the print version better as I could skim over the reference notations which made a more seamless story.

Interesting storytelling style with this one which could work for some but not others. I was okay with it after getting used to its rhythm. The story is told in bits and pieces with many voices and a few main characters that stay throughout.

Got me thinking of grief and the afterlife - specifically, the Bardo which is known as the transitional state in Tibetan tradition.

One amusing image that tickled me was this...

On other days, everyone she met manifested as a giant mustache with legs. -Hans Vollman
chapter xxvii, page 79


* part of Man Booker Prize Reading Challenge (here)

* part of Tournament of Books 2018 (here)
Imagination Designs
Images from: Lovelytocu