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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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6245115,571 (4.18)55
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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A virtually plotless book of unusual form and construction. Some beautiful writing. Captivating use of the grieving Lincoln after the death of his son. Subject matter profound, and still inevitably obscure. I admired and respected it, though was not especially entertained. ( )
  stellarexplorer | May 20, 2017 |
If you have never read George Saunders then this would not be the first book I would recommend. This is his first novel and it is very creative but might not work for those that have not read his previous short story collections. This "novel" is told in a narrative form with a greek chorus aspect. The story deals with Lincoln and his response to the death of his son Willy. The chorus are ghosts etc. that are trapped in the cemetary where Willy is to be buried. It deals with Lincoln's grief but it also deals with the ghosts who really are in purgatory and their own lives when they were alive. The book is very creative but the narrative gets a bit tiresome. The book picks up during the last 100 pages. It ultimately works but probably more for people that have read Saunders other works. His creativity is off the charts and he should be read but read his earlier stuff before you venture into this. ( )
  nivramkoorb | May 12, 2017 |
This is an imaginative work describing the night after Willie Lincoln was interred. The characters are mostly the deceased who have remained in the cemetery, either by choice or circumstance. Most are still there because they either don't believe they are dead or they are waiting for someone. Lincoln comes to visit the body of his young son, and this creates all sorts of problems for the dead.

It is well written; however, I did not like the style. Narration can switch from one character to another a dozen or more times in a chapter. It is like reading a list of quotations which, although they sometimes advance the story line, are repetitive. After reading all of the glowing literary reviews, I must say I was disappointed in this novel. ( )
  DrApple | May 8, 2017 |
Saunders explores how flawed humans are forced to contend with life’s many challenges in his first novel, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO. He sets it during one night at the Oak Hill Cemetery near Georgetown. The bardo is a Buddhist concept where the human spirit is in transition awaiting either ascension to nirvana or reincarnation into another existence following death. Willie Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son, is in the bardo having recently died from typhoid. The grief-stricken President, who is also in the midst of the early stages of the Civil War, visits him there in a profound state of guilt and grief.

Saunders uses two very different motifs to present a kaleidoscope of human failings from varying perspectives. On the one hand, he presents multiple voices from spirits who are trapped in the Oak Hill bardo. The cacophony they create presents a picture of just about every human frailty, including murder, suicide, rape, theft, prejudice, homophobia, etc., etc. They suffer from a host of bizarre deformities that represent their failings in life but have one thing in common; all are bitter and refuse to complete their journey to the afterlife until they settle old scores. This approach can be both dark and comical, but seems rambling and incoherent, lacking in the gravitas of similar works that use voices from the grave to explore similar themes (e.g., “Our Town,” “Spoon River Anthology”).

To achieve the needed gravitas, Saunders joins these slapstick graveyard antics with citations from scholarly works, both real and imagined. The latter create a more nuanced picture of Lincoln and the early Civil War period. His approach not only informs Lincoln’s life and times, but also provides insights into the complexity of peoples’ understanding of his motivations and mental state at the time.

Of course, the protagonist of the novel is Lincoln himself. Saunders employs two of the spirits, Roger Bevins III and Hans Vollman, as a clever way to explore Lincoln’s thinking about the war. Willie is tempted to stay in the bardo because his spirit has experienced his father’s profound grief. However, Bevins and Vollman know this would be a grave mistake and thus merge their spirits with Lincoln’s body to influence him to accept that Willie will never return. With this “mind meld,” we learn of Lincoln’s powerful realization about the only way he could conduct the war. “His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow…toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow, that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.” Shockingly, Lincoln then concludes that “to do the maximum good,” he must “[k]ill more efficiently” and “cause more suffering.” As good cancer surgeons know, sometimes this is the only viable strategy. ( )
  ozzer | May 3, 2017 |
This got good reviews but I found the device distracting and hard to follow. There were some wonderful nuggets of quotes that captured the deep grief of Lincoln as he processed the death of his son, but I would not recommend. ( )
  Mark.Kosminskas | May 3, 2017 |
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Unread I hold it,
a new Saunders book is come.
My evening expands.

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