- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 6, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812985400
- ISBN-13: 978-0812985405
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1,756 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel Paperback – February 6, 2018
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“A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.”—Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review
“An extended national ghost story . . . As anyone who knows Saunders’s work would expect, his first novel is a strikingly original production.”—The Washington Post
“Saunders’s beautifully realized portrait of Lincoln . . . attests to the author’s own fruitful transition from the short story to the long-distance form of the novel.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Profound, funny and vital . . . the work of a great writer.”—Chicago Tribune
“Heartbreaking and hilarious . . . For all its divine comedy, Lincoln in the Bardo is also deep and moving.”—USA Today
“Along with the wonderfully bizarre, empathy abounds in Lincoln in the Bardo.”—Time
“There are moments that are almost transcendentally beautiful, that will come back to you on the edge of sleep. And it is told in beautifully realized voices, rolling out with precision or with stream-of-consciousness drawl.”—NPR
“Lincoln in the Bardo is part historical novel, part carnivalesque phantasmagoria. It may well be the most strange and brilliant book you’ll read this year.”—Financial Times
“A masterpiece.”—Zadie Smith
“Ingenious . . . Saunders—well on his way toward becoming a twenty-first-century Twain—crafts an American patchwork of love and loss, giving shape to our foundational sorrows.”—Vogue
“Saunders is the most humane American writer working today.”—Harper’s Magazine
“The novel beats with a present-day urgency—a nation at war with itself, the unbearable grief of a father who has lost a child, and a howling congregation of ghosts, as divided in death as in life, unwilling to move on.”—Vanity Fair
“A brilliant, Buddhist reimagining of an American story of great loss and great love . . . Saunders has written an unsentimental novel of Shakespearean proportions, gorgeously stuffed with tragic characters, bawdy humor, terrifying visions, throat-catching tenderness, and a galloping narrative, all twined around the luminous cord connecting a father and son and backlit by a nation engulfed in fire.”—Elle
“Wildly imaginative.”—Marie Claire
“Mesmerizing . . . Dantesque . . . A haunting American ballad.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Exhilarating . . . Ruthless and relentless in its evocation not only of Lincoln and his quandary, but also of the tenuous existential state shared by all of us.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“It’s unlike anything you’ve ever read, except that the grotesque humor, pathos, and, ultimately, human kindness at its core mark it as a work that could come only from Saunders.”—The National
About the Author
George Saunders is the author of eight books, including the story collections Pastoralia and Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2006 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and was included in Time’s list of the one hundred most influential people in the world. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.
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That said, I think "Lincoln in the Bardo" would work even better as a stage play, somewhat reminiscent of "Our Town", and in this sense I think an audio recording of the novel, if done well, might be the best way to experience this work.
Bardo is a Tibetan word for the "in-between" or "transitional" state between lives (thank you, Wikipedia). The novel takes place in one night in a cemetery and the story is narrated by hundreds of voices: old and young, men, women, and children, white and black, salve and free. These denizens of Saunders' novel are in a place between life and death. We are told that people stay in this gray area for varying periods of time and that children usually stay there a very short time (this is where it also sounded a lot like Purgatory to me). Do these "beings" know that they are actually dead? They use words like "sick box" for coffin, and "sick-form" for body, "white stone home" for mausoleum, so they seem to be unclear as to their actual state. Through these voices Saunders creates as fascinating (and chilling) a version of the after-life as Dante Alighieri gave us. (There is a particularly interesting and notable discussion among them about free will in the latter part of the novel.)
The basic plot is fictionalized history: Willie, Abraham Lincoln's young son, has died and he is now in the Bardo. Here we meet the many fascinating - and funny! characters who show Willie around, who witness the unusual sight of Lincoln cradling the body of his young son, and who endeavor to help both father and son to find peace. That's as far as I will go with the "plot" of this novel.
One of my favorite things about this unique novel, was how Saunders presented conflicting "news reports". For example, when reporting on the White House gala reception the night Willie is dying, some "witnesses" said there was a full moon, some said there was no moon, some said it was green, some red, others said it was just a sliver. This serves to remind us that recorded history is just as unreliable as our current news reporting. What is the truth? Do we ever know? For the purpose of "Lincoln in the Bardo", we only need to know that the Lincolns did lose their beloved son Willie in early 1862, all else is brilliantly imagined and "reported" by Saunders.
Ultimately "Lincoln in the Bardo" is a riveting exploration of death, grief, and love told in an utterly unique, almost poetic, fashion.
What’s it about?
So this book is truly different- beginning with what's a bardo? The definition of bardo: (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person's conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death. This whole novel takes place in the bardo right after Willie Lincoln dies. It is 1862 and the Civil War is not going well. When 11 year-old Willie dies of typhus Mr. Lincoln is deeply depressed, and yet he knows that he is inflicting this same grief on so many families by sending their sons into battle. Literally we see his solitary grief juxtaposed along side the collective grief of a nation. The novel poses so many interesting questions, all seen through a motley cast of characters inhabiting the bardo with Willie Lincoln.
What did it make me think about?
By the end of this novel I was asking myself all kinds of questions. What exactly does happen when we die? What about all our unresolved situations here on earth? Do we only fully experience humanity as we interact with each other? Are we all more important as a part of a whole than as individuals? How responsible are we for our actions? This novel gives us so much to think about….
Should I read it?
The format of this book may throw you for a loop but it is truly an amazing book! It is just so different. My advice is to just start reading and don’t stop. Patience will be required by some, and I am sure even with patience, some readers just won’t like this book. To be clear- at ten pages I was thinking, “what is this?” Don’t over think it and the beauty, wit, and wisdom will come.
This is another book with so many quotes I don’t know where to begin…
“He is just one.
And the weight of it about to kill me.
Have exported this grief.
Some three thousand times. So far. To date. A mountain. Of boys. Someone’s boys. Must keep on with it. Many not have the heart for it. One thing to pull the lever when blind to the result. But here lies one dear example of what I accomplish by the orders I-
May not have the heart for it.”
“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, he could be of no help to anyone and , given 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.”
If you like this try-
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell