I offer my great thanks to Max u for providing me with an Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book.
Winner of the 2017 Booker Prize
“Used loosely, "bardo" is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful”. From Wikipedia
I was very excited when I began reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, his debut novel and the 2017 Booker Prize Winning novel. I knew it was being proclaimed in the literary press as a work of great originality. Here are a few of the reactions:
“A masterpiece” – Zadie Smith, New York Times
“An incredible work of art. Deeply moral, heartfelt, hilarious, and wildly imaginative” – Buzzfeed
“A strange and haunting novel – his highly anticipated first, after decades of short-story wizardry – about the effect the dead have on the living, and the living on the dead” – Economist
“The story canters along ... The writing constantly surprises” – Mail on Sunday
“Lincoln in the Bardo has great matters on its mind: freedom and slavery, the spirit and the body. But it is, finally, “about” Abraham Lincoln, that great spectral presence in a whole subgenre of American fiction” – New Yorker
The novel takes place largely in the cemetery where President Abraham Lincoln’s eleven year old son Willie was recently buried. The novel is only peripherally about Lincoln but we can see the incredible strength and wisdom of Lincoln, leading the nation during the terrible civil war years while dealing with the death of his son and the mental illness of his wife. “Bardo” is a concept derived from Tibetan Buddhism which refers to a kind of limbo like state in which the recently deceased linger until they are prepared for the next step. The metaphysical aspects of this are left largely unexplained, as it should be.
At first the souls in the cemetery do not realise they are dead. Saunders does a simply brilliant job creating a community of highly individualistic voices in the cemetery. Somehow Saunders has produced a wonderful picture of the state of American society through all these voices. He also makes very creative use of sources on the era, some real, some who knows. His depiction of the life of a slave woman, in the Bardo but not buried too near the whites was a true master work, in just two pages he brings vividly to life the horror story that was American slavery. Just this alone makes the book a great experience.
There are many more wonders in Lincoln on the Bardo than I can describe. In a way, it forces the reader to ponder the conduct of Lincoln through profound grief and a horrible near nation destroying war versus the conduct of the current president, thrown into a frenzy by the pettiest things.
All lovers of the novel should read Lincoln in the Bardo. It is a work that will repay, I think, numerous rereading.
I advise all interested in learning about George Saunders to visit