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Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders


In 1862, with the Civil War less than a year old, Abraham Lincoln's beloved son, Willie passes away after being gravely ill. He is laid to rest shortly thereafter in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspaper reports at the time report a grief stricken Lincoln returning many times to his son's crypt alone, to hold his son's body. This is where Lincoln in the Bardo begins.


I'll be honest, I had a very hard time reading Lincoln in the Bardo. The structure of the book first of all was different than any I had read before. Saunders uses actual historical writing to set the scene the night of Willie's death. I loved that and found it really insightful and easy to follow as far as story goes.


However, once he gets to the cemetery and the ghosts start telling the story, that's where it fell apart for me. I couldn't follow the story line and nothing I read seemed to move the story along. The only part I could make out were the main ghosts trying to get Willie to move on and he refusing to do so. The "story" made me cringe at times too. The ghosts are telling Willie about their deaths and lives (most of these were gruesome and inappropriate for a child, in my opinion). While I was reading, I sat there thinking, why are they saying this? And none of this information again, helped the story to move forward.


Again, I like the concept of telling the story from the ghosts point of view in the graveyard over the course of one night. That's what initially drew me to the story, so I was really disappointed to see how the story played out.

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