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?
My thoughts: It took my time to think over this book. It was not an easy read but it was worth reading. I was first intrigued by it by the way it was written. At first glance, it appeared that it was written as a poem or snippet of quotes. However, when I started reading it, I soon learned that it was more complicated than that.
The story of William being in the bardo (aka purgatory) was uniquely told. The book was comprised of different monologues from various characters, as well as accounts from various journals during Lincoln's time. I have to confess, it was extremely confusing. There was no traditional way of introducing characters or indication of who was speaking at first. It took me 50 pages in to get a sense of what was going on. But then all of a sudden, I was thrown off again around half way when the story veered off from the main plot. Ghosts, yes ghosts, all of a sudden started vomiting all of these stories at once that did not make sense nor did it connect to the main story. I was completely lost.
I almost gave up but I had to do some research. When searching online, I was not able to find a source that quickly explained what the book was really about, so I turned to Youtube. I'm so glad I did because the first video that popped up was a 360 presentation of the book, a mini film. This video answered my questions and the hundreds of voices speaking at once began to make sense. It helped me view the book with new eyes.
I won't reveal too much of the book but I will say that I felt a little sadden for some of the ghosts at the end. This book was a told in a unique way that I plan to revisit it again for further understanding some day. Perhaps I'll listen to the audio instead. I rate this book: