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Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel by George…

Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (original 2017; edition 2017)

by George Saunders (Author)

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3952327,097 (4.23)30
Title:Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel
Authors:George Saunders (Author)
Info:Random House (2017), Edition: First Edition, 368 pages
Collections:Your library, Notables

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (2017)

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Fiction S2574L 2017
  ebr_mills | Mar 23, 2017 |
In the cemetery in which Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, has just been interred, the shades of those who have not relinquished their ties to their earlier existence consider his arrival and the remarkable appearance, in the middle of the night, of Willie’s grief-stricken father. No wonder Willie’s shade lingers, with so much love and commitment on offer. But lingering isn’t something you want to do too long here in the bardo, a purgatorial way-station between what came before and what is to come.

Saunders deploys his mastery of voice to imbue his principal shades, as well as those with lesser parts, with all the subtle linguistic charms to, virtually, bring them to life. And voice is pretty much all he’s got here, since almost the entire novel consists of dialogue. The remarkable feats of serial monologue that Saunders brings to his best short stories, are here multiplied into intricate choral lattices. All without losing the close interiority that is a hallmark of Saunders’ empathetic characterization. Grief and responsibility, both individual and national, will struggle throughout this very long, dark night. But what changes will be wrought, and will they be for good or ill?

Astonishingly good writing. Subtle, sympathetic, wistful, bawdy, wonderfully whimsical, and heart-wrenching. Saunders has convincingly demonstrated that he is just as inspiring in the long form as he is in the short form.

Highly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Mar 22, 2017 |
The language is beautiful but the work is disjointed. It felt like it could have been a novella about the death of Willie Lincoln, or a collection of poems about the author's vision of the spirit world.
  Unreachableshelf | Mar 20, 2017 |
This is an extraordinary work of the imagination. Willie Lincoln, the beloved 11-year-old son of Abraham Lincoln, died of a fever in February 1862. Contemporary accounts suggest that a distraught President Lincoln visited his tomb and held his son in his arms, after he was interred. From this heartbreaking detail, Saunders draws a world where the spirits of the dead remain in the cemetery, the Bardo, a Tibetan word meaning in-between or transitional. The spirits tell the story of Lincoln’s visits, as well their own lives and deaths, interspersed with actual contemporary accounts of Willie’s sickness, death, funeral, and the aftermath for the Lincolns. A powerful story of love and loss. ( )
  rglossne | Mar 14, 2017 |
You were a joy, he said. Please know that. Know that you were a joy. To us. Every minute, every season, you were a – you did a good job. A good job of being a pleasure to know. -Abraham Lincoln, to Willie


George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo is told over the course of a single night: February 22, 1862, two days after the passing of Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, Willie Lincoln. Distraught, Mr. Lincoln visits his son’s tomb in the middle of the night in an attempt to deal with his grief. While there, unbeknownst to him, the spirit of his young son is watching him – along with a multitude of others.


This was definitely a unique book, I will give it that.

Lincoln in the Bardo that alternated between two distinct formats:

The first format, describing (in detail) the events around the time of Willie’s death, was told through first-person accounts, quoted directly from reference books. However, I don’t think it lent itself well to the written page. It was often cumbersome trying to read through them, especially when a lot of the excerpts were only a sentence or two long. I feel like the author was trying to convey a similar feeling between these chapters and the chapters which took part in the cemetery itself, but it ultimately came off as choppy and frivolous.

(For example, in Chapter V, there were eleven separate accounts – one after the other – which described the moon on the night that Willie Lincoln died. Yes, eleven. And all were slightly different.)

The second format, and the more interesting, was told in the voices from the denizens of the cemetery. It was told in an almost play-like format, but without the interference from an outside narrator setting the scene. Instead, the characters themselves did that. They were a numerous and lively (excuse the pun) bunch, colorful and interesting, who each lent their own voice to the story.

My biggest complaint about the book was that it was a tad hard to get into, especially listening to the audiobook. Although the audiobook utilized a cast of 166 voices (which is incredible!), if you forgot whose voice belonged to which character, then tough luck. Though, for the most part, it didn’t take away from the overall meaning of the story if you switched up a character or two. Or most of them (at least the minor ones). Also, even though the text read like a play, the narrator’s name was not mentioned until after they spoke, which got especially confusing during long passages because I would have to skip to the end to see who was speaking, then proceed to read what they had said. That also took away a bit from the story itself.

Overall, this wasn’t a bad book. I thought the concept of the entire book was creative and unlike anything I’ve read before. The format, though sometimes unwieldy, gave a distinctive feel to the story. I loved the descriptions of the so-called “sick” characters (spoiler-not-spoiler: spirits) in the cemetery and their perceptions of the world. I loved the whole concept of this in-between place, this Bardo, where they were neither living nor dead. Each character had a different reason tethering them to their bodies and to the physical world, and I really enjoyed their backstories.

To me, this book rates as a solid 3 stars, though maybe an extra ½ star for creativity. But because of the choppy nature of the story and the often-confusing voices, I couldn’t justify rounding up to 4 stars.

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for a free copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review!

To check this post out on my blog, click the link below.
https://allisonsadventuresintowonderlands.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/george-saunders-lincoln-in-the-bardo/ ( )
  Allison_Krajewski | Mar 10, 2017 |
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Unread I hold it,
a new Saunders book is come.
My evening expands.

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