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review 2017-06-11 19:52
Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is a fascinating, unique and mesmerizing reading experience and I have to admit I have never read anything quite like it.


Saunders takes the reader on a journey to the bardo, a kind of "in-between-place", where the souls of the dead, who have unfinished business on earth, linger and obsess over their unfinished business on earth. On the night of his burial eleven year old William Lincoln gets stuck in the bardo, unable to pass on to the place beyond, eventhough this means a threat to him. Will the ghosts of the bardo be able to help him? 


This novel is about grief, loss, love, the bond between a parent and his child, sin, redemption and forgiveness. Especially the passages, where Williams father Abraham Lincoln comes to the cemetery, because he can´t let go of his boy, were heartbreaking.


The novel is split into two narratives and it took me some time to get used to the narration. The biggest part of the novel takes place in the bardo and is mainly told in dialogue from the perspective of three of its ghost (but there is a huge cast of other characters as well). The smaller part consists of qoutes of contemporary peers describing what Abraham Lincoln has done or how he has reacted during the time of Williams death. The chapters with the quotes were really fun at times, because various people contratict each other, beginning from the moon being there or not to the physical appearance of Abraham Lincoln.


The only thing I have to complain about is that Saunders uses a weird kind of humour in places, a humour which is not up my alley. But then it´s been a couple of days since I finished this book and I can´t stop thinking about it. I really liked this novel.


I´ve read this book for the "Main Street 13" square of Booklikes-opoly. Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer and the book is set during the Civil War.


Page count: 343 pages

Money earned: $3.00




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review 2017-03-30 00:00
Lincoln in the Bardo
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders I don't understand why everyone loves this except me. I guess it's just one of those things in life. I thought it was too nonsensical to read for fun. This is something that maybe you would read in school and break down each part to get the deeper meaning. I didn't feel any of the emotions I was supposed to experience. Lincoln is president. His son died. He's stuck in a sort of between with all these other ghost personalities that are stuck in between too. It's not really about Lincoln or his son that much. This ghosts or whatever they are rant all the time on random things. It tells mixed up bits about their backgrounds. Also, little segments from other works about the president, his parties, his wife or son are mixed in, like one line from this book, one line from that article, one line from a made up source, etc. heavily throughout. I did not see the point of this book.
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review 2017-03-16 15:29
Lincoln in the Bardo - by George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo - George Saunders

It would seem convenient, career-wise, for George Saunders to have found a novel in him after the success of Tenth of December, but if timing makes Lincoln in the Bardo seem shrewd, the writing inside will assure you that it was, in fact, inspired.


I'm not sure why I try to temper my enthusiasm for this book and Saunders generally; I suspect years of cool outlaws make siding with any sort of consensus group uncomfortable. Saunders has certainly garnered a mass of critical and audience praise but yeah, I'm going to jump on board because his writing is very good and original and relevant.


Lincoln in the Bardo is a strange and ambitious novel. It is structured almost like a play, a 300 page dialogue. The main story takes place in a graveyard among ghosts including Willie Lincoln, who has just arrived (i.e. died) and will be visited by his father, Abraham. This part is based in contemporary stories of Abe visiting his son at the cemetery at night and holding the body. Willie was just 11 when he died. Willie is greeted by our protagonists, Hans Vollman and Richard Bevins III. They, like all the other ghosts, have not accepted their situation and, as ghosts tend to, have unresolved business in life.


Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters of actual historians and contemporaries describing the times and life with the Lincolns. I was a bit concerned going into these sections, but Saunders uses a device that is common through the novel, splitting the account among many voices. The effect is kind of like a mosaic, with the scene being built, one sentence or paragraph at a time, each from a different perspective. It brings the scene home a little, like a group of friends talking over to recount some interesting event. They diverge at points, and come to consensus at others, but it comes off as something more interesting than a straight recounting. Saunders is able to dwell on interesting points, like a city of candy for a party at the Lincoln's, or the weather the night of Willy's death. It was probably much more work on Saunders point, but it removes some of the formality of the history while puncturing his story with the weight of real events, real deaths, and a real war not far to the south of these events.


The ghosts do this as well and often you'll find Bevins telling us what Vollman said then Vollman telling us what Bevins said. Being a chorus of souls who can't even acknowledge they are dead -- though they know they are dissociated from their bodies which reside in "sick-boxes" -- this is the most honest way of accounting for beings that are too busy looking at everyone else to notice their own situation. Everyone apart from the two Lincolns. 


Saunders' voice is something like the literary equivalent of artisinal hamburgers or secret shows in Brooklyn speakeasies, it's high art masquerading as everyday objects. For the most part, he reflects spoken language, often dropping articles and subjects, or inflecting statements with interrogative properties. (Like, writes it so it sounds unsure, as if you're asking a question.) But it's not really speech, that would make for shit writing. He's always leading, pulling you to a particular emotional state where he can drop the next reveal on you.


Lincoln in the Bardo does what I think is most amazing about Saunders: His most sorrowful stories are somehow his most heartening. I saw Saunders speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia and he ended talking about the book as an acknowledgement not just of our own mortality, but everyone's: everybody you love will die. This was on Valentine's Day. 


Loss is a pretty clear theme in the book, it is about ghosts, after all. Lincoln is having to bury his child, and deal with the fact that he is sending many young men to die in a war at the same time. The ghosts are powerless in the world, they cannot find resolution through their actions. The futures they see will never come about, and what comes next is, if nothing else, inevitable, and the focus on postponing that next place is ultimately fruitless. 


Still, this realization comes with a (relatively) light touch. Something in how Saunders makes it common, makes his characters one of many. It's not the sad, impotent thrashings of a raving hero striking at the sea, it's a family at the end of a tough day sitting together for a quiet moment. It reminds me of Whitman:

"That you are here -- that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse."

The point isn't that life/love/humanity/Firefly will end, but that life happened, isn't that miracle enough? Saunders is more clever than to hammer you in the head with it like I do, but that's what I take from it, and what many seem to -- his work is often noted for it's "humanity" whatever you make of that. Despite the real horror of some of his novels, and many decidedly tough endings, there is something affirming in the story, something hopeful. Bravery, usually, often of the less obvious sort.


The novel has its flaws, most noteworthy I'd say that Saunders has trouble smoothing out some very modern speech patterns. I'm not holding him to a real high standard on this one, he said in his talk that he wasn't trying to go full method actor or anything though he worked to strike things to obvious like "friggin". Still, in a couple parts it was a little distracting to hear someone who spoke like they had seen more than one Keanu Reeves movie. 


I highly recommend this to all readers of fiction. One nice thing is the dialogue structure seems to pull you along and also depress the word count so it is a very quick read. 


Happy Reading!

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review 2017-02-28 21:48
A boy goes to a graveyard and the president shows up
Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel - George Saunders,Nick Offerman,David Sedaris

Apparently this audio book has over 160 actors, and I would believe it. To be honest, I wanted the audio version because Don Cheadle was one of the performers.

He's the only reason I watched part of Iron Man something or other.

But, the handsome and talented Cheadle aside, this book. This book. This book is about grief, about life, about relationships, about sin, about . . . Lincoln coming to terms with self and death of his son.

Saunders combines history - at the least several of the sources cited in the history section of the book are real - and fiction - the bardo section, that takes place in the graveyard. The term bardo is a clue to the actual point of the novel. Critics have referred to it as modern Our Town, but I loved this whereas Our Town makes me want to throw up. There is a harshness to this, some of the language isn't present, but in the harshness lies truth.

Seriously, it is whatever says - the best book of the year.

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review 2016-10-27 05:27
Bardo or Not Bardo, by Antoine Volodine
Bardo or Not Bardo - Antoine Volodine,J. T. Mahany

Antoine Volodine’s Bardo or Not Bardo (translated by J.T. Mahany) is another book for the “what the fuck did I just read?” files. The summary on Goodreads makes sense: seven chapters show seven different characters (many of them named Schlumm) fail to achieve enlightenment while traveling through bardo and end up being reincarnated back on earth. I was initially attracted to this book because the review I read said this book was a humorous take on characters struggling in bardo; I was hoping for something a bit like Christopher Moore’s A Dirty Job or Secondhand Souls. This book is nothing like Moore’s work. It’s too weird and disjointed for comfortable reading. There were some parts that made me chuckle, but mostly this book just bewildered me...


Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type.

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