The Book: Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders
I was first introduced to this novel through Stephen Colbert, when he had the author come on his show to promote it. I was thoroughly intrigued, more so than I have been in a long time, and I made the immediate decision to purchase the book as soon as possible. So if anyone thinks going on TV to promote something doesn’t work, well, it does.
Lincoln in the Bardo was inspired by the story that, upon his son’s death, Abraham Lincoln visited the crypt and held his child’s lifeless body. Bardo, in the Tibetan tradition, is the space between death and what comes after it; in the book it is where many of the characters are stuck – dead, but not believing themselves to be. The novel takes place over the course of one night, and delves into the interaction between Lincoln and his newly deceased son, Willie, who is now a shade. It includes a cast of unconventional characters, many of which are also ghosts, as well as excerpts from historical documents pertaining to the situation at hand.
To get this out of the way first: Lincoln in the Bardo was unlike anything I have ever read. This is a common thread among reviews, and that is because it’s actually true.
The style takes form in a series of different voices, all woven together to create a massive, dynamic, and sometimes contradictory portrait of Lincoln himself, of death, life, sadness, happiness, and all that is happening in the novel. There are passages that make you think, passages that make you laugh, others that can bring you to tears – all are profound. It is a whirlwind of emotion, and Saunders takes his reader through it masterfully.
This is a book that requires a little patience. If and when you decide to read it, take your time. Let the story flow at its own pace. As for audiobooks, I would not personally recommend it for this one – the sheer amount of different voices might make it confusing.
Never have I felt so near speechless after reading a novel -it is a book that one simply needs to experience for themselves. Lincoln in the Bardo is pure brilliance, and now stands with pride at the top of my list of favorite books.
Overall score: 5/5 stars