Photo credit: Chloe Aftel
George Saunders might be one of the most beloved authors writing today amongst booksellers — both for his fantastic, incisive, frequently hilarious, sharp-edged stories, and because the man himself is famous for being a ridiculously nice person. So the news that he was writing his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo
, was greeted with incredible excitement. And the novel is just as good, if not even better, than we all hoped it would be. The story of Lincoln grieving the death of his son, told in a chorus of voices from the Bardo (a kind of limbo), historical reports, and Lincoln himself, Lincoln in the Bardo
is a formally inventive, brilliant work on grief, loss, empathy, and meaning. In a starred review, Library Journal
calls it a "stunningly powerful work." We agree with Dave Eggers
, who said, "George Saunders is a complete original. There is no one better, no one more essential to our national sense of self and sanity,” and we are very proud to choose Lincoln in the Bardo
for Volume 65 of Indiespensable
: What prompted you to write a novel after so many short stories?
: The funny thing was, I'd kind of come to be at peace with the idea of not writing a novel. I was even a little proud of it after all the years of hearing people ask, "Why don't you?" After Tenth of December
, I was like, Maybe in this life, I'm just not a novelist.
There was a feeling of relief that came with that. It was like, Oh, god, I don't have to keep faking that or longing for that or feeling vaguely inadequate
, because I hadn't written a novel.
Strangely, that opened up the space for this book to happen. When I dropped the idea of writing a novel, it turned out that a lot of my ideas about novels were false, anyway. It was like if someone said, "Would you like to join the country club?" You're like, Oh, I'll have to become full of shit to join the country club, and I'll have to dress this way.
Then you get there, and you're like, Oh, they're actually kind of cool people.
] All of those rules and regulations were just projections that you had.
In this case, really, what happened was I didn't want to write a novel, but I did want to somehow do justice to this particular story. So when I went into it with that spirit, and just saying, Well, it's probably not going to be a novel. I sort of hope it’s not, but let me just see what I need to do to honor the emotional core of it
, then it proceeded pretty naturally.
At some point, you look and you go, Wow, I've got 70 pages, and I still have a story to tell.
So voila! It's a novel.
: It's not a very traditional novel, certainly.
: No, and it's not that long, actually. The thing was, for me, the procedure was to keep pushing back against the possibility of it being a novel, so that it wouldn't bloat up. I've done that in the past, where you get onto something, like, Hey, this might be my novel.
Suddenly, you're putting in a bunch of gratuitous descriptions of rugs and stuff, just to pad out the word count.
For me, one of the watchwords was, Don't try too hard
. Don't force it out of the track it's actually on to make it resemble more like what you think a novel is. Just let it be what it wants to be.
: What was the genesis of the story itself?
: Years ago — maybe in the '90s — we were visiting my wife's cousin in DC. We were driving by Oak Hill Cemetery. She pointed out that there's a certain crypt that Willie Lincoln had been buried in back in the 1860s. That was news to me. I didn't even know that the president's son had died then. Then she just added this little throwaway detail that, according to the newspapers at the time, Lincoln had gone into the crypt to hold the body on several occasions, because he was so grief-stricken.
That just lit up my mind. One, it's weird that he could get out of the White House, just leave on his own, in the middle of the night. Then two, of course, the sadness of that, that he would be so unhappy that he would go there to seek some kind of comfort in that unusual action.
Also — this doesn't happen to me usually — there was this visual image that sprang into my mind of Lincoln holding the boy's little body across his lap, like the Pietà or something like that.
So that really was just a completely spontaneous reaction I had to that story back in the '90s. And I couldn't shake the idea all those years, really. That's the truth. I tried to write it in a couple different forms, and actually tried to avoid it for many years. I consciously said, That's a killer. Don't do that. You're not ready for that.
I'd hear about that happening with other writers, and always think, Oh, that's bullshit.
] In this case, it really was just a persistent thing. I'd be in a good mood between projects, and I'd go, Oh, that Lincoln book.
: It's such a haunting image.
How did the structure evolve as you were writing it? You've got the chapters made up of historical fragments. For some reason, I assumed initially that the fragments were fictionalized, until I started recognizing some of the sources.
: I think most of them are real, actually.
In a way, my goal was to discharge that idea, like get it out of my system once and for all. To try to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible was the idea. All those formal things, formal innovations, or formal weirdnesses that I came up with, they were all just in response to problems that had come up.
For example, that historical stuff you're talking about, those historical fragments — at some point in the procedure, I noticed that there were too many ghosts and not enough solidity. There were lots of whimsical ghosts, and ghosts are like basically dream sequences. They can do whatever they want.
I think that wears thin after a while with the reader. Like, OK, it's a ghost, and the ghost is doing some outrageous thing, which is a lot like the writer doing some outrageous thing.
I think the mind starts to crave a little bit of factuality.
I had all this historical stuff that I had been accruing since the 1990s, almost like a hobby, around this idea of Willie's death. So I had it, and I noticed that it was really informing my emotional reaction to the core story. You find out all these things about who Willie was, and what his relationship was like to Lincoln, and where Lincoln was in his presidency, and all this stuff. You think about it for those 20 years, and it starts to make it a story in your mind.
This book, more than anything else I've ever done, I felt really extended my range.
The question was, how do you get all that backstory into the book as a form of solidity to enable the ghosts to continue to be there? That's the kind of technical aspect — in an encounter in a graveyard at night, Lincoln is the only living person. How do you get all this historical backstory in? You try, Oh, there's a really loquacious gravedigger, maybe
, or something like that. [Laughter
Finally, I'm just like, Oh, god, I'm so sick of trying to be so elaborate about this.
That idea of trying to keep it simple was in my mind. I turned to myself and said, Well, how do you know all this shit?
I'm like, Well, I read it in history books.
That other self was like, Well, there you go. Just put that in. Put it in as directly as you can. Put it into the reader's head the way it got into your head.
That was a fun moment. You go, OK, I get to put in verbatim historical accounts.
This is a long-winded way of saying that the form of the book wasn't something I came up with in advance, but in each case, it was a quick solution to a structural problem.
: I love the way they form a sort of collage effect at times, particularly the chapter about the moon on the night of the party, with the blatantly contradictory reports. The ones about Willie, too, describing his character, which are very moving. There's something about the fact that they are historical reports that give them weight.
: Yeah. I think it's funny that if you say, "I have a feeling that ducks can actually secretly speak French," everyone goes, "You're crazy." If a news reporter comes on and says, "Ducks are reported to be speaking French," you're like, "Oh, god. Maybe they are."
Or even if you just channel somebody else. I don't know how to describe it, but somehow there's something about the apparent reportage that games your skepticism a little bit, I think.
: I think so too. It's the fact that it's one step removed, maybe.
So did those characters or the voices of the ghosts come first for this book?
: I'm trying to be honest. It was such a long process. It happened in several different phases. Because actually I'd had another book I tried to write years ago that was set in a graveyard. Ghosts were IMing back and forth, essentially. That was sort of in existence, but I had never made the connection of that to this book.
The first thing I remember doing was trying to get those historical forces to make sense. I knew from having done that book that when you have 200 pages of ghosts, it becomes somehow a little bit gauzy. It doesn't compel the reader for some reason. I thought, OK, I have to get some solidity. So I decided on the close historical accounts.
Then I spent I don't know how many days, months, weeks typing all those up. This was all for the party scene, mostly. Cutting them up with scissors, getting on the floor, moving stuff around. You start to feel insane. Is this writing or is this avoiding writing?
Then it was a big breakthrough when one day, I had a finished chapter and I read it. I thought, Yeah, that kind of works,
and compared it to what I started with and it was so much better in the rearranged version.
That gave me a little bit of hope that doing something organizational was resulting in a better reading experience. It could be considered writing, I guess. Then I had a feeling that I sometimes get while writing stories, which is when, through this logical method, I find myself doing something really insane. I've just been trying to be efficient, trying to be emotionally moving. Then suddenly it's like, Oh, man. This means I'm going to have recurring verbatim historical sections throughout this whole book.
You feel both a little bit exposed and nuts. You also feel a little bit original. There's a nice feeling that comes with that, almost an aggressive feeling of, Yeah, I think this can work, and if it does work, it'll be really cool.
For me that was a big turning point. But at that point I think there was something like 30 pages of uninterrupted historical narrative. [Laughter
] That seemed a little bit plagiaristic, maybe.
I think that came first. What I'm really saying is I have no idea. I don't remember, actually. But it was a full immersion thing. What I do when I'm writing on full speed is I'm throwing shit around and deleting stuff and moving files and putting stuff on the floor. Then you look up three or four days later and you've made "a decision," but you made it viscerally with your whole body over those three days.
You know that you're in a better place but yet you can't quite remember how you got there. That's the most honest description of it. It's nice to go back and try to say, "Well, I decided that blah blah blah," but in honesty it's much more of a frenzy and you're moving intuitively towards a decision, almost by way of your own disgust.
You have one version. You look at it, like, Oh, that's... fuck. Can't do that
, and you lurch away from it and you try a bunch of other stuff.
It's a little bit more like trying to get out of a straitjacket. It's not orderly and for me, anyway, it's not conceptual or decisive. It's more kind of a blur.
That's a nice answer.
: That's a great answer.
: I just go totally insane for like three years, and...
: Then you look up and there it is.
: I think that the voices of the ghosts are one of the great pleasures of the novel. Where did some of these characters come from?
Also, how did you capture the voices of the late 19th century? I was wondering if some of the direct historical sources you were reading informed those at all.
: An answer to the second question is, for sure they informed me. I was really trying to read everything I could get my hands on from that period, mostly with the goal of having it filter through my body, so that if I had to suddenly do a 19th-century voice, I could do it.
Sometimes I took existing letters and then typed them up and mangled them a little bit. Or in the end, the shell would be all gone but you'd have some little pattern of speech. But mostly it was just voice writing. You rule out certain contemporary diction, steep yourself in all the different kinds of writing that appeared. Of course there's high-level writing and there's really low writing.
In the end, some of it isn't that different from contemporary speech. It's not that long ago. But yes, I wanted to just steep myself in it, so that when I had to improvise something, I was at least in the ballpark.
It would be like if you went down to Texas and you just listened to a bunch of the different varieties of Texas accents that there are — you didn't write anything down, but you paid so much attention that when you came back, you could do a passable version. Which, really, the goal was never to be historically accurate, because of course we don't know how people talked. But it was almost like doing a good impersonation of someone doing an impersonation of 19th-century speech. It didn't have to be exact. It just had to make the reader agree that that's what we were doing together.
Lincoln, Lincoln — he's just an unfathomably deep person. Any time you can spend thinking about him is pretty profitable.
Then as far as where the ghosts came from, it was that same sort of intuitive blur. Hans Vollman, I had him from that earlier book. I had a version of him, although in the earlier one he sounded more like Joe Pesci. [Laughter
At one point in the old draft, I think his thing was that he'd been married to a nymphomaniac. I was like, Eh, I'm not liking that. I don't know why. I just don't like that.
Then I said, Let's see. What's a variety of that? What's an inversion of that?
It was that he was married to a woman who was a much younger woman who was repulsed by him, and the day after she finally agreed to consummate their marriage, he gets killed.
So you're kind of looking for a… I hesitate to say shtick, but in a book that's fast and almost cartoonish, your character just needs one little identifier, one little thing, and in this particular book, for the ghosts, the criterion was always, Well, why are they still here?
The idea is that most dead people, people like you and me who are so well adjusted and content, could just naturally go on to the next thing after we died. “Thanks for the life. We enjoyed it." You know, "You had nice grass here. We enjoyed it. We're off." But these particular ghosts are here because they weren't in a healthy relation to their life during their lives.
Then all you had to do was say, Well, why are you still here?
To any one ghost, What's your deal?
They would sort of tell you. That made it a little easier.
In the old book that I had about ghosts, everybody was there, anyone who ever died was there in that graveyard to talk. That made it hard because you had infinite choices.
With this one, by definition, these dead are kind of unhappy. What you had to really do was try to ask yourself, Why is this woman so unhappy that she's lingering here after her death?
: In the last interview
that I did with you, about four years ago, you said:
Then I stumbled on this way of writing that I think of as third-person ventriloquist….It's a way of approaching ostensibly realist material from the inside of someone's head. It differs from traditional stream of consciousness in that you're really mindful about trying to use their diction, and that in turn means that you're kind of honoring their psychological affirmations.
: I was more articulate back then. [Laughter
: I think I was, too. Were you using a similar method when you were thinking of embodying Lincoln's voice in particular?
: That's actually a great observation. The ghosts not so much, the ghosts are doing their monologuing. They're more like first-person narrators and they're doing that same first-person thing, withholding and disclosing and they're performing for you, basically.
Lincoln is more like the third-person ventriloquist because we always get to him through another character. Another character is co-occupying the same space as Lincoln. Therefore, he can read his mind in exactly the same way that I pretend to read the character's mind in a story, like "The Falls" or "Victory Lap."
So yeah, actually, that's right. He's the only one, though. For me, I find that third-person ventriloquist thing to be — it makes the character more vulnerable because we're not getting that performative screening that a first-person narrator or a monologist gets.
: I like that you just used the word "vulnerable." The tone of the book includes a lot — parts of it are very funny and a little bit absurd, and the ghosts are wonderful, of course, in their varying monologues. But there is a vulnerability and a gentleness because of Lincoln's voice and because of the situation, because of the grieving that he's doing for his son.
From Willie's perspective, too, it's almost unbearably poignant sometimes. It's a very moving book.
: Oh, thank you so much. It's funny, it's almost... for me one of the reasons I avoided writing it for so many years was because I would come up with this idea of a father grieving his son, and I would just flinch. I thought, I don't think I have the tonality that can accommodate that right now. I really don't know how to narrate that material in a voice that isn't lame or sentimental.
That's why I kept turning away from it all those years. I would in my mind imagine what it would sound like, and it always sounded sappy. Or it sounded like, in order to provide the necessary edge, I would have to somehow dishonor the emotional content of the thing.
That's why I kept avoiding it all those years. Even when I finally started, what you just said was exactly the crux of the technical challenge, was to somehow honor the emotional content while not being, I guess I'd say, static. There's a danger in that material that you fall into this kind of maudlin earnestness.
First of all, I am sort of like that in person. [Laughter
] I fall into it pretty easily, and it's as dull as shit. So one of the things I learned early in my writing career was to not do that, don't be earnestly maudlin. That's why this book was such an opportunity for me because I had to try to, on every page, navigate that problem.
The whole book became, for me, not only trying to narrate Lincoln but trying to construct a new tonality that had both emotion and edge in it. In a way, the reason it was hard in the first place was exactly the reason I should've done it. This book, more than anything else I've ever done, I felt really extended my range.
A book does that mechanically by being hard. Let's say that you decided that this year you're going to be an absolute compassion-meister. You're going to be so loving to everyone you meet. Then you meet a bunch of nice people and you're like, Hey, I'm doing it. No problem.
Then you meet someone who's your complete antithesis — emotionally, politically, everything. You can't stand this person. Well, that's great because now you're really going to get to test this thing under duress. This book felt like that for me in some way.
Then, Lincoln, Lincoln — he's just an unfathomably deep person. Any time you can spend thinking about him is pretty profitable.
: Well, one thing that I thought was very powerful about the grief and the emotion in the book is, of course, it's Lincoln's burden to feel this grief specifically about his son. Then you have that moment where he extrapolates outward from that, about the sorrow and grief that he is in part causing, through the war, through so many dead.
The way you described that process, I think, is very powerful in terms of how valued every life is, even lives that are on the other side of a war.
: Sometimes I think fiction really likes it when you give it an unsolvable problem. Simply because, in this case, you think about the Civil War and slavery. The Civil War was an undeniably essential thing that had to happen. If the war hadn't been fought, slavery probably would've gone on for at least 10 years. And some people think because the South was trying to expand into Mexico, it could've become a semi-permanent institution. Think about the tens of hundreds of thousands of lives that would've been ruined by that. So they have to end it. Good.
Then you fast-forward to some place like Shiloh or something, or any of those battlefields where these young guys are getting literally blown apart. I read a book called Men at War
and it talked about the technology of that war. Mostly you were just getting blown apart, parts of your body were being lopped off.
So, there you go. Two incredible horrors juxtaposed against each other, and there's no way out that isn't bloody. Then, you're Lincoln, and you have to decide… I don't even know, my morality is so facile and so tidy and so unchallenged, most of the time. You look at Lincoln, or actually anybody in that era, there really wasn't any safe place to stand in that argument.
If I had to compose a response to Trumpism, it would be this book.
What he eventually does in the book, as I think he did in reality, is go, All right, if God or Providence seems to want a certain amount of blood in order to correct this decades-long monstrosity that we brought on ourselves, then I've got to be the one who facilitates the blood flow.
You don't think of Lincoln as that guy. But, you know, that's kind of deep.
I mean, good and evil aren't just, you know, I'm going to opt to be good
. Then, having gone into the realm of, I want to be good
, you find that there are two monsters and you've got to kill one of them by hand.
: Lincoln's internal monologue about his son's body is really interesting. He thinks, "It is that which used to bear him around." But he also admits, "We loved the way he, the combination of spark and bearer, looked and walked and skipped and laughed and played the clown."
I thought that captured very well the complexity of how we think about the body and the spirit sometimes. Particularly when someone is dead.
: Yeah, it's even weird when you think about your own body, and you look down at your hands and you're like, Yeah, those are dead guy’s hands. Just not yet.
I guess that's what they call... I hesitate to call it this, but it's a rich metaphor to have a father holding the body of his son because it quickly transforms into the question, What is love, anyway? Which part of this entity was endearing to you?
: I think as much as the book is about loss and grief, it does also seem to be about love and empathy. We talked about empathy in our last interview, too, and how it so frequently makes its way into your work. The ghosts end up having more empathy for each other, and carrying forward through Lincoln — there are a lot of connections that are made by the book.
: Yeah, I actually didn't plan that. I had no idea that that stuff would happen. There's kind of a system where it's almost like a big machine starts working to try to save Willie. I really didn't have that in mind. It kind of just happened, through that intuitive revision process that we talked about. You throw these bowling pins up and then they come down and you're like, Oh, that's amazing!
But the other thing that I think with empathy and all that — there's something that occurred to me, too, about this book. We always talk about empathy being modeled in a work of fiction by the regard that the writer has for his characters. We show something happening and that thing seems to advocate empathy.
We also feel the empathy that the writer has for the characters. Maybe the character starts out in a bad place and is lovingly shown to ascend a higher ground. That feels like empathy.
But the other one is the connection between the writer and the reader, and the respect that the writer can show the reader by all kinds of methods, including having prose that's sharp, that credits her intelligence.
In this book, one of the ways that I really felt myself taking a chance on the reader was with some of these formal things which take, I think, a little bit of getting used to. They're kind of strange. But it seemed to me that if they work for you, then you and I have made a nice bond over our mutual ability to get into those interesting, rarified spaces of form and structure, even.
In other words, I guess what I'm saying is, the book presents a bit of a challenge and you rise to it. That's another form of empathetic bonding. It's between the reader and the writer.
But it communicates the same message, which is, We're not that different in this world, and people can crosstalk in ways that are way above the Internet, way above political snark, even way above just mundane conversation. We can communicate mind to mind at this higher artistic level
— which has something to do with where a page break is, or which two speeches abut against each other.
All that stuff is the actual vocabulary of art, and so much of it is not easily articulable. You can discuss it, but discussing it is not the same as experiencing it. I always find it really lovely when I read, say, Toni Morrison
or Cormac McCarthy
, and I see that somebody has been very aware of the potential of that rarified air and has occupied it and then has had faith in my ability to get up there with her and co-occupy it. That seems like one of the big sources of reassurance in literature.
: Do you think that, in contribution to that rarified space, you thought about the prose itself or the language any differently for this book than for your earlier books? I always love your language, but this one seemed markedly more poetic or lyrical.
: Yeah, I think so, too. I think part of it was just that you had that constraint that you couldn't use contemporary language. In a way, I became more aware of how much I use that as a comic tool, the way that we talk today. You put that off-bounds a little bit and then you see what rushes in to replace it.
I enjoyed that, the idea that I could indulge myself a little bit more in lyrical language. I would consider some of it even modernist language. There's Faulknerian
overtones in there, I think. I thought that one of the little rules of the bargain in this book was, OK, I can't do contemporary, but I'm going to give myself permission to do what feels to me a little more like conventional literary language. I'm going to allow myself to do that.
It was really cool the way that it opened up expressive opportunities. There are times when, because I allowed myself a kind of flowery, 19th-century diction, I could get into emotional spaces that I hadn't been into before. Or even, I could specify more precisely than I could if I was confined to contemporary language.
You see why language went in that direction in the 19th century. You might also see why it came out of it, because it's easy to bullshit in that prose. [Laughter
] You can take a really disgusting idea and dress it up pretty nicely.
: Towards the end, Lincoln is thinking (it gets channeled through one of the ghosts) about what's to come. And he says:
Against this, the king-types who would snatch the apple from your hand and claim to have grown it, even though what they had, come to them intact, or had been gained unfairly (the nature of that unfairness perhaps being just that they had been born stronger, more clever, more energetic than others), and who, having seized the apple, would eat it so proudly they seemed to think they had not only grown it, but picked it, and invented the whole idea of fruit, too, and the cost of this lie fell on the hearts of the low.
I found that very striking. It calls to reference some of the things you've written about in your earlier work.
I was wondering if in your research and your working on this book — although obviously it's been over a long time — if you felt like that gave you a different perspective on what's been happening in our political situation?
: I finished this book just as Trump started running. Then right after I finished it, I did that piece for the New Yorker
where I went to his rallies. So it's almost like none of Trumpism got into this book directly. But if I had to compose a response to Trumpism, it would be this book. To me, all my political ideas are in the book.
It was interesting to go back and do — I didn't do heavy research, but I did hobbyist-level research. What was interesting was Lincoln's vision of America was, well, beautiful in the sense that he understood it as the first country in the world where somebody like him, who was beyond poor as a kid — broken family, no money — could actually, just through hard work and intelligence, make his way up the ladder.
To us, it's a given that people can do that, but in his time, especially if you had an eye on Europe, that wasn't true. What he loved about America was the idea that you could be pretty unrestrained, work your ass off, make yourself into more than you were. He didn't like any ideas that the government would get in the way of that.
And then it seemed to me the great challenge of those last five years of his life was basically to say, Does this idea apply to everybody? Does it apply to slaves, to black people?
I think the reason we love him is because in those last five years he had, it seems to me, an incredible spiritual growth that took him from being really conventional and saying, I certainly think African Americans are men, but I don't think they should be equal, and I'm not sure we should end slavery. We should if it saves the Union.
This was the kind of thinking that he was doing in 1860 or so.
Suddenly, by the end of it, I think he was actually more advanced than most of us are now in the way he thinks about those things. That speech is kind of about that. The way I understand the book is that he's in his 1862 mind-set, which is probably at heart very egalitarian and very in favor of equality and against slavery.
But he also hasn't done the Emancipation Proclamation yet. There's a big phase ahead of him that I didn't know about before I started this book. There was a point where he invited a bunch of African American leaders to his office to propose that they get behind the idea of repatriation to Africa. This is I think 1863 or '4.
They were, of course, offended by this. These people, some of them had been in America longer than he had. They were ministers and businesspeople. In the historical text you can see he was embarrassed that he had done that. Beyond embarrassed — humiliated by his own action. He never mentions repatriation after that. Then what he starts talking about is the heroism of the black soldiers and how he couldn't possibly betray the faith that they had in him.
On the night in question in the book, the way I imagined him was that he was almost there, but not quite.
Lincoln was a really humble, really sad, really kind guy. People always talk about how sad he was and how he would try to rev himself up by telling jokes, but basically his resting mental posture was very sad.
He was also very kind. They talk about the ways he would always try to let you out of a situation gracefully. He couldn't stand to hurt someone's feelings, and so on.
And I think he had an ability to think beyond himself, and to wish good for people that he didn't even know. That quality of gentleness, which I think has a bad name in our politics now — gentleness is somehow understood as weakness, as compliance. I think it's a real loss.
You couldn't ask for a person that was stronger than Lincoln. You think about what he endured. But his strength had a real suppleness in it. He could get tremendously hit by huge casualties or by intense public criticism, and weirdly he would just come out of it always with his mind on what was pragmatic.
He could look at you, I'm convinced — he could look at somebody who came into his office, for example, to nail him. He would take the abuse and then he would do something that would indicate that his ultimate concern was to benefit that person who came in, to send that person out in a better state of mind. What the Buddhists would call “skillful means.” He would do all kinds of things like that.
That's a really amazing model of leadership. In my view, that's what's missing from this whole Trump movement. There isn't sadness; there's anger. There's not kindness; there's aggression. There's a desire for power. There's a real lack of curiosity.
So to me it's a little obvious to make a contrast between Lincoln and Trump. But I think maybe what's more useful and more fair is to look at our politics today and say, What are the underlying virtues that we really respect? Is there a place in our culture for someone who's sad and kind and interested in benefiting others, regardless of what's in it for him or her?
That seems to me the big, striking change.
I spoke to George Saunders on January 10, 2017.