Lincoln In The Bardo


George Saunders

First Sentence:    On our wedding day I was forty-six, she was eighteen.

Back of the book:

The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace. Here he invents an exhilarating new form, and is confirmed as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Deploying a theatrical, kaleidoscopic panoply of voices – living and dead, historical and fictional – Lincoln in the Bardo poses a timeless question: how do we live and love when we know that everything we hold dear must end?


Rarely have I seen a book that has been praised as enthusiastically as this one. It seems that every time I hear it mentioned people are commenting on how it is a masterpiece/already their book of the year/ the perfect novel etc. I have read some of Saunders’ short stories in the past and was blown away by his skills as a writer. Not surprisingly I was genuinely excited about the prospect of this book; pre-publication buzz was off the scale and it looks and sounds incredible. I have to say though I was massively disappointed. I just genuinely do not understand what all the fuss is about, and am at a loss to find anything remotely enjoyable in this reading experience. Not one I’ll be going back to any time soon.

Last Sentence:     And we rode forward into the night, past the sleeping houses of our countrymen.