BOOK REVIEW: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


Title: Lincoln in the Bardo
Author: George Saunders
Publication: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 368

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SYNOPSIS: (From Goodreads)

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 returned to the crypt several times alone 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 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 transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.


I don’t know what drew me to this book. I know that I found it at my hometown local bookstore based on the tell-tale price on the first page of the book. I think it was the Civil War/Lincoln that drew me in.  While I like all Historical Fiction my favorite Historical Fiction is Civil War based.   That is my favorite era.  I luckily found it on Audible once again so I was able to listen to it instead. 

First of all this book is not your typical book. While there is an underlying story it doesn’t read like your typical one. The main storyline of the book is partially Lincoln and his family coming to terms with the death of their son Willy from Typhoid Fever at the young age of 11.  The secondary storyline is ghosts from the cemetery where Willy is laid to rest. The bulk of the story is about ghosts stuck in Purgatory/Limbo or as the story calls it Bardo, it is to be noted that most of the story takes place within a one-night period.   The story follows Willy Lincoln after he dies and interacts with the ghosts that live in the cemetery still.  It was so good to listen to, even if there were 166 narrators in the audiobook.  Yes, you read that right 166 narrators in the book.  The main ones are Nick Offerman, who I can honestly listen to his voice for hours.  Most of the narrators are celebrities and include Susan Sarandon, Keegan Michael Key, and David Sedaris. 

I think the idea of this book is so good. There is a story weaved through another story.  The book is peppered with snippets of journal entries, newspaper articles, and published and unpublished books of the time during and after the Civil War.  The things that are peppered in give even more look into how the Lincolns and the US handled the death of the President’s son since he died while he was in office.  Honestly, after reading this book I can see why it earned all of the accolades that it did. It is something that isn’t a true book form in the sense of chapters and this happened and then this did.  It is much more of a weaving and vast expanse of a story.  It pulls you in and makes you want more. I have recommended this book to my husband, which is rare because we have vastly different tastes in books, but I think he would like it.  His books are more of a fantasy sort that are 1500 pages long. I will be looking for the author’s other books and checking them out soon I hope.   

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