Lincoln in the Bardo

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112 Ratings

Lincoln in the Bardo Book Summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • 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?

Praise for Lincoln in the Bardo

“A luminous feat of generosity and humanism.”—Colson Whitehead, The New York Times Book Review

“A masterpiece.”Zadie Smith

“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

“Saunders is the most humane American writer working today.”—Harper’s Magazine

“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

“A brilliant, Buddhist reimagining of an American story of great loss and great love.”—Elle

“Wildly imaginative”—Marie Claire

“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

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Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders Reviews

  • Ugh

    By PaulaDinNYC
    I'm about 100 pages in. I rarely ever stop reading a book without finishing. This one...not sure it's worth continuing. I agree, completely, with the other reviews.
  • Interesting, but not a favorite

    By kjherbst
    It was an interesting read, to say the least. This book follows the death of young Willie Lincoln and his after-life experience in a graveyard among other "spirits," including three deceased men who act as main characters. This story takes place late in the night when President Lincoln went to visit his son on the same day that they had laid him to rest. This was a real occurrence, as there are historical accounts written by the people who saw the President that night. Dialogue was difficult to follow. Chapters flipped back and forth between the fictional story and real accounts of the President, his family, the White House, the Civil War, etc. What the mausoleum was doing to Willie was completely confusing and didn't make sense until the last 50 pages. I won't ever revisit this book, like I usually do with favorites, but it really put life and death into perspective for me. It also made me wonder a lot about President Lincoln and that night in the graveyard so many years ago.
  • Hated

    By VSabio
    Choppy, manic story telling. Ridiculously confusing.
  • Hard to Follow

    By N1077G
    I applaud any writer willing to take a chance with a different style and a unique story line, but I found myself 100 pages into this book and still not caring about any of the characters and confused by the sudden switches in point of view. I finally just gave up. There were no reviews when I purchased it but it had gotten coverage in my local newspaper so I took a chance. This is the rare time when I wish I could get my money back.

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