Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Originally published: 2017

Author: George Saunders

Published by: Bloomsbury

Genre: Historical Fiction

Page count: 343

Reading dates: 27-30 August 2018

Star Rating: 4/5

This is the first Man Booker prize book I’ve read (I know, shocking!) I’ve always assumed I’m not clever enough to enjoy prize winning books. This was a book club choice and I must admit when it arrived and I flicked through, I was a little worried as the format is so different.

The story centres around one night in February 1862 in a Georgetown cemetery in which Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie lies in a crypt having died of Typhoid fever at the age of 11. With the backdrop of the Civil War, the narrative focuses on the President’s grief at his loss, and is told by a series of voices.

Willie Lincoln

Also in the graveyard are many other spirits who live in the Bardo which is considered in some schools of Buddhism to be an intermediate state between death and rebirth. The 3 main voices are the spirits of a reverend, a printer who died before he could consummate his marriage to his younger wife, and a gay man who committed suicide, and the book is written almost like a script. As well as the narrative from the voices, the book is interspersed with sometimes contradictory historical writings of the time, describing the events as they unfolded (I’m not clear if these are true quotations as there is no bibliography but I assume they are!) Other themes include racism (even after death the coloured people don’t interact with the white people) and slavery.

As I said, this was a book club choice and generally was well received although a couple of members thoroughly disliked it, calling it pretentious, the characters unsympathetic and irritating, its view of death depressing.

But I really enjoyed the book – it took a few pages to get used to the format but I found it a quick read and as with many other historical based novels I have read, it has made me want to read more about Lincoln. At times I found some of the interaction between the 3 main voices quite amusing and this innovative style of writing will stay with me I think.

About the author:

George Saunders

George Saunders was born in 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado.

After reading in People magazine about the Master’s program at Syracuse University, he applied. Mr. Saunders received an MA with an emphasis in creative writing in 1988. His thesis advisor was Doug Unger.

He has been an Assistant Professor, Syracuse University Creative Writing Program since 1997. He is married and has two children.

The Man Booker Prize 2017

Man Booker Prize 2017

The 13 books announced for the 2017 Man Booker Prize long list were:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Autumn by Ali Smith
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


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