Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Hardcover, 343 pages
Published February 14th, 2017 by Random House
My rating:
In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

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.

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—living and dead, historical and invented—to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

My thoughts…

Lincoln in the Bardo was selected by my library book club for this month’s read and it wasn’t what I had expected. Before I started the book, I had to look up the definition of Bardo, as most of this book takes place in the Bardo. 
Bardo: (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person's conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death. an indeterminate, transitional state:
Abraham Lincoln visited the crypt of his eleven-year-old son, Willie, several times to hold his son's body. Willie doesn't realize he's dead. His soul is stuck in a transitional phase along with the other ghosts who inhabit the cemetery. The ghosts are stunned at the rare scene of a tenderness towards the dead. Lincoln leaves, but promises to return. Willie is determined to stay and wait for his father’s return. The ghosts must create a plan to convince Willie to move on. The ghosts come and go, and they each have their own story to tell.

It loosely centers on the historical facts and portions of historical journal entries and newspaper clippings. I could not get past the format, it’s was not an enjoyable read and I found it boring. It was almost like reading footnotes, it was full of quotes (with no quotations) from the many historical journal entries and newspaper clippings. It was just strange and something that I wasn’t expecting.

I was surprised to learn Lincoln in the Bardo is a Man Booker Prize Winner. I know I’m in the minority when it comes to this book but, it wasn’t for me.


  1. At one point I was excited about this book, but pretty much everyone I know who has read it hasn't really enjoyed it. Thanks for giving your honest thoughts on it. You've helped me decide that this probably wouldn't be a good fit for me either.

    1. I was excited when this book was listed for my library book club, I was surprised that I didn't like it. Glad I can help with your discussion Suzanne. Have a great day.

  2. oh. such an interesting premise! too bad it wasn't that well executed!

  3. I don't think this one would be a hit for me. I've seen so many reviews from bloggers that I seem to have the same reading tastes with (like you!) who hated this one.

    1. This was a surprise for me, I thought I was going to like it. I wouldn't recommend it. Have a great day Erica.

  4. Aw man! and it sounded so good too, the premise that is. Too bad that it sucked.