Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

The weirdest book I’ve ever read

– Leah Smith

I wish I could just use that as the review, it’s true and I feel like this is the kind of book where you don’t want to know too much before going in. It’s something you have to experience and reviewing it would give too much away. Sadly, I don’t think that’s what was in mind when I was sent a copy of this so, you’ll just have to bear with me while I try and review this.

In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.
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?
This is one of the most hyped books of recent years, everyone has heard of it, it topped bestseller lists and won awards, so when I got given the chance to receive a copy in return for a review I jumped at the chance. All I really knew about this was that it was about President Lincoln and the death of his son Willie and that is probably just the right amount of information for anyone to know before going in – knowing too much more would have scared me off reading this. This story is so uniquely told, it mixes real life events with fantastical fictional ones. It reads in places like an academic text and in others like a play, it offers an original take on a story that has been told thousands of times before.
It is a strange read – and had I known how it was presented and how the story was being told I might have been scared off of reading it at all and then I would have completely missed out on how wonderful this is. Yes it is a bit weird but don’t let that put you off – the story is beautifully told. Like I said, this is a book that needs to be experienced without knowing too much, so don’t take my word for it, grab a copy and make up your own mind.








3 thoughts on “Lincoln in the Bardo”

  1. I was in chapter 3 before I figured out what exactly I was reading…. I’m glad I read it; but not a fan. I heard the audio book is awesome… I love EVERYTHING Lincoln, so this was a hard one for me.

    1. I have a fascination with Lincoln too and was really excited to read this – I know exactly what you mean, I was very confused when I first started reading it, but once I got used to it I actually really liked it, but it was definitely unexpected and I don’t think the marketing of this helped at all, but I did quite like it at the end, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it more!

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