Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

A Novel

eBook - 2017
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The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December : a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented

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?

Praise for Lincoln in the Bardo

"A luminous feat of generosity and humanism." --Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review

"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." --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
Publisher: New York :, Random House,, [2017]
ISBN: 9780812995350
Branch Call Number: Online eBook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file, rda
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc

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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.

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.

b
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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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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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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