Lincoln In the Bardo by George Saunders
“February 1862. President Lincoln suffers the terrible loss of his beloved eleven year old son, Willie. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt of his son several times to hold the boy’s body. From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of it’s 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 traditional state – called in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo – a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.”
I have been curious about this book since it first came out, buying it months ago and adding it to my TBR. I picked it up and started reading it the night that I learned of my father’s diagnosis. I don’t know if I was seeking comfort or just wanting to be able to identify with someone else’s intense grief…. whatever the reason, I am so glad that I read this. It was bizarre and like nothing I have ever read before, but in the best way. There is no real format, so it took me quite a while to get used to how the characters were identified and to be able to keep track of them all. I don’t think the writing style will be for everyone, but I was so surprised by how delightfully odd and thought provoking it was. Saunders beautifully articulated Lincoln’s grief, sprinkling quotes from true historical sources all throughout the book. The visual of Lincoln cradling his young son in the crypt was incredibly powerful to me and resonated deeply, as Lincoln struggles to say goodbye to his son and Willie struggles to leave the father he loves and move on. The multitude of ghost characters range from the hilarious, to the sordid, to the pious and their interactions with one another and young Willie were peculiar and fascinating. If you like stories that are unique and outside of the box, I encourage you to pick this one up and give it a try. 5 fantastic stars.