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Lincoln in the Bardo

Cover: 'Lincoln in the Bardo'

Staff Review: "Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Saunders


Lincoln in the Bardo finds its inspiration in a brief moment in history—a February night in 1862 when President Lincoln visited the grave of his recently deceased eleven-year-old son, Willie—and transforms it into a complex reflection on grief, loss, uncertainty, and regret. Young Willie finds himself in the bardo, a state between the death of his physical body and the release of his spirit into the afterlife, where he is greeted by three long-term residents of this suspended state. These spirits, who seemingly resist the knowledge that they are, in fact, deceased, serve as his guide to this community that contains the same divisions as the living world. They know that the young are meant to move on quickly and are eager to send him on his way, but a visit from the grieving President is a shock to their collective understanding of their isolated world. This moving and complex story includes historical and fictional accounts of the events surrounding Willie’s death. I found it a bit confusing at first, so I recommend giving yourself time to immerse yourself in the story and the unique structure. The overall tone is somber and reflective, but there are moments of humor as can only be provided by spirits who have been sharing the same space for far too long! It’s one of those books that’s not like anything else you’ve read before, and I highly recommend it to readers looking for something different, and it’s most likely to appeal to readers of historical fiction. The audiobook, which is notable for the record-setting cast of 160+ voices, is also excellent!

Audience: adults | Genre: fiction

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