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George Saunders definitely couldn't let his first novel be ordinary, not run-of-the-mill, not average. In fact, Lincoln in the Bardo is one of the most unusual novels I've ever read: the format, the plot, and the characters are all completely unique. Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the Civil War, mourns the death of his son, Willie, and sneaks away in the night to spend a few more solitary minutes with his boy. In the cemetery, Willie is caught in the "Bardo" — the space between transitions — waiting for whatever comes next. Tapping the myriad other cemetary dwellers as a sort of Greek Chorus, Saunders holds forth on life, death, and everything in between. His quiet take on parental mourning is heartbreaking, and Lincoln's grief is gorgeously depicted.
Throughout the novel are excerpts from original source materials — some real, some fiction — the identification of which is part of the fun of this wholly original story. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
With hilarity, ribaldry, and some very poignant moments of tenderness, George Saunders tells a wondrous tale of love, loss, longing, and time — raising important questions of both mortality and morality while mesmerizing the reader with an absorbing mix of trademark wit, spirited dialogue, and impressive technique. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented
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.
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 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 to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?
"A luminous feat of generosity and humanism." Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review
"Ingenious . . . Saunders — well on his way toward becoming a twenty-first-century Twain — crafts an American patchwork of love and loss, giving shape to our foundational sorrows." Vogue
"The novel beats with a present-day urgency — a nation at war with itself, the unbearable grief of a father who has lost a child, and a howling congregation of ghosts, as divided in death as in life, unwilling to move on." Vanity Fair
"Mesmerizing.... Dantesque.... A haunting American ballad." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Exhilarating.... Ruthless and relentless in its evocation not only of Lincoln and his quandary, but also of the tenuous existential state shared by all of us." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"It’s unlike anything you’ve ever read, except that the grotesque humor, pathos, and, ultimately, human kindness at its core mark it as a work that could come only from Saunders." The National
"A masterpiece." Zadie Smith
About the Author
George Saunders is the author of eight books, including the story collections Pastoralia and Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Guggenheim Foundation. In 2006 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction and was included in Time's list of the one hundred most influential people in the world. He teaches in the creative writing program at Syracuse University.