Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Rating: 2/5 stars
Page Count: 343
Publication Date: February 14, 2017
Date Reviewed: June 19, 2017
Lincoln in the Bardo is a fictional depiction of President Abraham Lincoln’s grieving for his eleven-year-old son, Willie, who dies of Typhoid Fever. After Willie’s body has been laid to rest in the Georgetown cemetery, Saunders introduces us to a “lively” world of souls who are stuck in the “bardo,” the Tibetan concept of purgatory, the transitional state between life and death. A majority of this book is comprised of stories from the other souls in the bardo. Some of the souls refuse to accept that they are dead and others refuse to move on to the unknown, despite knowing that staying too long in the bardo can be hazardous and unpleasant.
The bardo is especially dangerous to Willie, because of his youth. But despite persuasion from the other souls, Willie decides to wait or “tarry” before moving on. The rest of the story unfolds when Abraham Lincoln visits Willie’s grave at night and holds his lifeless body in his arms. This part of history, although strange, has been well documented and was actually the inspiration for Saunders’ book!
Lincoln in the Bardo is an interesting book with unique storytelling and perspective. Although a very creative concept, I just couldn’t get into this book. I didn’t find the story line very compelling or coherent to hold my attention. Some of the souls in the bardo had amusing, funny, and thought-provoking stories, but mostly the story is disjointed and it was very difficult for me to imagine the world Saunders had created. I think part of my struggle came from how many stories were told through monologues, with footnotes that often detracted from the story. I also had no idea what this book was about when I first picked it up, so it was a bit disorienting at first as I tried to understand what was happening.
I do, however, admire that Saunders dared to do something different and developed his own storytelling style which, based on other reviews I have read, worked for many people. One thing that I did particularly like about Lincoln in the Bardo was Saunder’s inclusion of historical accounts and details about Lincoln. I believe he mixed historical and fictional facts together to create his story, but I found the details about one of our most famous presidents fascinating! This book definitely makes me want to learn more about Abraham Lincoln and his life.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a creative book that just wasn’t for me, hence the two stars. Did you read the book and loved it? If so, let me know in the comments as I always love hearing different perspectives!