Thursday, February 16, 2017

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders
Published February 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher, thru Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
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 returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

My Thoughts: 
When I started to see this one around, I knew I wanted to read it. Not because I was interested in the summary (I hadn't even read it), but because I have heard so great things about Saunders' Tenth of December. I sort of love going into a book completely unprepared, only expecting that the writing would be very good.

If you've read this blog for long, you know that I'm not one for books with ghosts and other such supernatural doings. So when I tell you that this book, largely told by spirits caught in limbo, will almost certainly be on my top ten list at the end of the year, you'll begin to understand how impressed I was with Lincoln In The Bardo.
"What I mean to say is, we had been considerable. Had been loved. Not lonely, not lost, not freakish, but wise, each in his or her own way. Our departure caused pain. Those who had loved us sat upon their beds, heads in hand; lowered their faces to tabletops, making animal noises. We had been loved, I say, and remembering us, even many years later, people would smile, briefly flattened at the memory.
the reverend everly thomas 
And yet.
roger begins iii 
And yet no one had ever come here to hold one of us, while speaking so tenderly. 
hans coleman 
roger begins iii"
Bardo, a Tibetan word, literally means "intermediate state" or "in-between state." In Lincoln In The Bardo, young Willie Lincoln has just been "laid to rest." But he is not at rest. Nor are the denizen's of the cemetery whose own stories are woven in with Willie's. Along the way Saunders intersperses nonfiction passages (which may or may not be actual nonfiction) about the last days of young Willie and the toll it took on his parents. We're all familiar with Mary Todd Lincoln's profound grief, but Saunders shows us the quiet, profound grief of a many who is not just carrying the weight of his own grief but that of the families whose sons he has sent to war to be killed.

In lesser hands, the multitude of story tellers and the mixing in of the nonfiction into the story could have been a mess. In Saunders' hands, for my money, it was brilliant. I loved this book from the first sentence "On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen" to the devastated father riding away from the cemetery in the end.

Now I need to go find a copy of Tenth of December...and maybe everything else Saunders has ever written.


  1. I just read a review of this book in one of my magazines and it made it sound so good. Now, I just read your review and you make it sound even better. So, now I MUST read this book! I'm so glad you posted about it. I wasn't too sure about it before, but now I'm certain that its a book I'm going to enjoy. Glad you loved it so much :)

  2. Wow. One of my coworkers read the ARC of this and couldn't stop raving about it. Another coworker started it and said she gave up after a couple of chapters. Your review has convinced me to give it a try! I've never read anything by Saunders, but I'm intrigued. Thanks!

  3. I had someone comment that the idea of the ghosts/shades was preventing her from reading the book. I fear that is going to keep a lot of people away from it. Seriously one of the best books I've read, so the idea of avoiding it because you don't like ghost stories makes me so sad. Now I want to listen to the audio version because 166 narrators is not something I want to miss!

  4. I am going to pitch this one to my book club tomorrow. We are selecting our books for the year and this one doesn't fit the requirements of having it be in paperback but oh well. I have just heard too many wonderful things about it to not pitch it. I have 6 books on my list total. I can only pitch 2. Argh!! So hard.

  5. I hear the audiobook is not to be missed. So with your review I think I know where my audible credit is going this month!

  6. I've only read some of his short stories, but this sounds intriguing!

  7. I have the audio ready. I read Tenth of December but it didn't wow me like I had hoped. Perhaps it was too high expectations? But I hope to love LitB. Am already wondering if it will be in the TOB 2018!