Reviewers have universally proclaimed the new novel Lincoln in the Bardo as one of the most unique and remarkable books of the year, and we are barely into 2017.
The author is short story writer George Saunders whose other books at the Monrovia Public Library are Congratulations, by the way: Thoughts on Kindness and Pastoralia, both in the short story section. Winner of the MacArthur “Genius Grant” and an instructor in creative writing, Saunders commented, pre-publication, on his first novel Lincoln in the Bardo, by saying that it is closer to science fiction than to historical fiction. However, labels cannot apply to this magnificent work.
First, what is the definition of bardo? In Tibetan Buddhism it is the transitional stage between life and death. With history showing that Abraham Lincoln lost to typhoid his youngest and favorite son Willie, the book steers Lincoln to the graveyard where Willie is buried and there comes upon the souls of those who are dead and buried still trapped by the notion that they are alive. Willie is one of those lingering, resisting death, while he awaits his father’s visit to his crypt. While Lincoln cannot hear the stories the dead tell, the departed let loose with dialog and tales of their own incomplete lives. It is Lincoln’s visit that prompts these beings to move from their transitional state.
The Wall Street Journal titled its review of Lincoln in the Bardo A Gospel of Compassion and indeed it is a deeply moving and very original book.