Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury) ISBN: 9781408871775
George Saunders is well-known for the rich imagination in his short stories. For this, his debut novel, he won the Man Booker Prize.
The story is about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven-year-old son Willie. But the setting is ‘in the bardo’: a word from Tibetan Buddhism which refers to the stage between death and the moment the soul leaves for the next existence/reincarnation. The story is told through quotes from the ghosts who live at the cemetery: they all linger in bardo, because they have not finished something in their lives. Added to these voices are other quotes from books about Lincoln.
Lincoln was so distraught after the death of Willie that he visited his crypt several times to hold his son’s body. Willie wants to help his father and the ghosts want to help Willie to move on to the next stage as quickly as possible. They realise they have to help Lincoln in this alternative reality so his son can be free to leave.
Sounds strange? It is. But good strange. It’s about love and bereavement and how hard it is to let go. I needed to get used to this way of reading, but it was worthwhile. Totally different and original. A moving masterpiece.