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Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)

by George Saunders

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,1142722,152 (3.96)405
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. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body. 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.… (more)
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» See also 405 mentions

English (266)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  All languages (272)
Showing 1-5 of 266 (next | show all)
Love this book ( )
  ibkennedy | May 31, 2021 |
I ended up enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would about 100 pages into it. I adored Tenth of December, and I just like George Saunders, so I was predisposed to like this. But it started so slow and disorienting, I couldn’t tell what he was trying to do with a true event I already knew something about. I honestly think what helped me get into and really enjoy this story was thinking of it as a stage play rather than a novel. Kind of like an intermittently profane Our Town.

I’m not sure, ultimately, that it has any great insight into how Willy’s death affected Lincoln, and the book is all over the place in looking at life and death, America during the Civil War, slavery, racism, sexism, all manner of human weakness. As always, though, one of the things I love about Saunders is the enormous empathy he has for his characters, or perhaps more accurately, the way he inspires empathy in his readers (or in me, at least).

One of the more interesting things he does in some of the chapters is the way he strings together quotations from usually primary historical sources to tell the story of Willy’s death and the Lincolns in the White House. I wasn’t even sure if that’s what he was doing at first, as a lot of the sources are so obscure (the quote from Team of Rivals was a giveaway).

I really wish Saunders had formatted the chapters narrated by the dead differently. It was really hard to follow or get into the way it was, with attributions at the end of each narrator’s piece (all lowercase, for some reason). Although I can understand why he didn’t format these chapters like a play or script, as the narrators often share dialogue from other characters. So I’m not sure what the solution would have been. As I say, it did help me to envision the story (including the chapters composed of historical quotes) as a play. Strangely it made the story seem more real to me. So when they put on a stage adaptation of this book, I’ll be there.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this to everyone, but if you’re a George Saunders fan, I think you’ll probably enjoy this novel. Just maybe not right away. ( )
  alexlubertozzi | May 24, 2021 |
A polyphonic ode to penance, Saunders’s imaginative purgatory evokes Dante: ghosts take on in bodily form their unfulfilled desires, trapped in limbo by a refusal to acknowledge death (e.g., a man who died before bedding his new bride suffers priapism, a man desperate for more sensory experience after slitting his wrists grows dozens of extra eyes, ears, noses, arms). Saunders floats seamlessly from toilet humor to the loneliness of a wartime president, from theology to the depths of human depravity. ( )
  jiyoungh | May 3, 2021 |
I should make it clear that I listened to it in audio.
I highly recommend it. ( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Seemed a lazy way to write a book to me. I'm sure this isn't true. The amount of research required has to be staggering. The finished jigsaw puzzle of a book does flow nicely, it's just drivel.

Was the point of hearing all the stories of countless one-off characters to illustrate that no one is sinless? I assume that I've yet again missed the symbolism somewhere.

Not my cup of tea. You'll figure out if it's yours pretty early on. Let's just say it doesn't improve as you progress. ( )
  KimD66 | Mar 7, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 266 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Saunders, Georgeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Offerman, NickNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sedaris, DavidNarratormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bachman, Barbara MDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brownstein, CarrieNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cardinal, ChelseaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cheadle, DonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dennings, KatNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dughet, HaspardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dunham, LenaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hader, BillNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
July, Miranda Narratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karr, MaryNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pye, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stiller, BenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Webb, E.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Caitlin and Alena
First words
On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.
Quotations
I will never forget those solemn moments—genius and greatness weeping over the love's lost idol.
Having never loved or been loved in that previous place, they were frozen here in a youthful state of perpetual emotional vacuity; interested only in freedom, profligacy, and high-jinks, railing against any limitation or commitment whatsoever.
In truth, we were bored, so very bored, so continually bored.
Birds being distrustful of our ilk.
Any admiration we might once have felt for their endurance had long since devolved into revulsion.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy's body. 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.

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Book description
Haiku summary
Unread I hold it,
a new Saunders book is come.
My evening expands.
(SomeGuyInVirginia)

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