Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
What’s it about?
So this book is truly different- beginning with what's a bardo? The definition of bardo: (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person's conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death. This whole novel takes place in the bardo right after Willie Lincoln dies. It is 1862 and the Civil War is not going well. When 11 year-old Willie dies of typhus Mr. Lincoln is deeply depressed, and yet he knows that he is inflicting this same grief on so many families by sending their sons into battle. Literally we see his solitary grief juxtaposed along side the collective grief of a nation. The novel poses so many interesting questions, all seen through a motley cast of characters inhabiting the bardo with Willie Lincoln.
What did it make me think about?
By the end of this novel I was asking myself all kinds of questions. What exactly does happen when we die? What about all our unresolved situations here on earth? Do we only fully experience humanity as we interact with each other? Are we all more important as a part of a whole than as individuals? How responsible are we for our actions? This novel gives us so much to think about….
Should I read it?
The format of this book may throw you for a loop but it is truly an amazing book! It is just so different. My advice is to just start reading and don’t stop. Patience will be required by some, and I am sure even with patience, some readers just won’t like this book. To be clear- at ten pages I was thinking, “what is this?” Don’t over think it and the beauty, wit, and wisdom will come.
This is another book with so many quotes I don’t know where to begin…
“He is just one.
And the weight of it about to kill me.
Have exported this grief.
Some three thousand times. So far. To date. A mountain. Of boys. Someone’s boys. Must keep on with it. Many not have the heart for it. One thing to pull the lever when blind to the result. But here lies one dear example of what I accomplish by the orders I-
May not have the heart for it.”
“His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would yet be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and , given his position in the world situated him to be either of great help or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.”
If you like this try-
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
some favorites of the last decade
best of winter 2020
best of summer/fall 2019
best of winter/spring 2019
best of summer/ fall 2018
best of winter/spring 2017-18
best of spring/summer 2017
best of winter
best of summer 2014
last spring favorites
on my nightstand
edge of your seat
― Charles William Eliot
3 to 4- I found some aspect of this book redeeming but would not recommend it.
5 to 6- I really enjoyed something about this book (characters, plot, meaning etc.) but it was uneven. Some aspects were stronger than others.
7 to 8- It was a good book. I liked lots of aspects of this book. I would recommend it.
9 to 10- I was sorry to turn the last page. I highly recommend this book!