Lincoln in the Bardo
“Lincoln in the Bardo” is an experiment in writing by George Saunders. Its inventive writing style paints a grim night in our nation’s history. The Civil War is raging and the Union is losing. President Lincoln lost his son, Willie, to illness and is overcome with grief. “Lincoln in the Bardo” tells a story about the night President Lincoln visited his son’s tomb from the perspective of the ghosts who live there. Yes, this is a ghost story.
The Bardo is a Buddhist plain of existence between death and rebirth. It can be viewed as a type of purgatory for souls who have not yet accepted their demise. When Willie Lincoln dies, he is entombed in a Washington, DC cemetery his spirit wakens as the sun sets and night settles in. As the resident ghosts come to welcome the new arrival Abe comes to the tomb to visit. Overcome with grief he holds the boy’s body as his spirit looks on. No one has held a body before in the cemetery and ghosts from all corners come to ask what it was like. From here Saunders takes the reader to unexpected places.
The themes of the book are grief, resilience, and the acceptance of truth. A cloud of sadness permeates the fabric of the story. Each ghost in the cemetery has a story about their arrival. Each ghost believes they will live again. The cemetery is visited by angels who fight to persuade the ghosts to join them, but the angels are imperfect and it’s never explained why.
There is a lot in the book that is left to the reader to interpret. The book is not about the characters as much as it is about the morality of life and not knowing what awaits our end. Saunders wrote a masterpiece that will be taught in schools for decades. It is a marvelous and enjoyable book that I hope you will read.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (February 6, 2018)
This book is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Lincoln-Bardo-Novel-George-Saunders/dp/0812995341