Book Review: “Lincoln in the Bardo”

A hard book to rate. First thing: this book is impressive. The story, concept, research, form, and technique, made this book undoubtedly very important. But, I found it hard at times to be emotional because of the visuals: like a play, it’s completely written in active voice, but each speaker’s name is written at the bottom of their line (sometimes paragraph). And since there are many, many characters, it’s not easy to feel without knowing who’s saying what. But that’s my personal experience, and I think Saunders is brave for taking the decision to write it in his way. And that might be the reason why he and the book deserve the Booker Prize.

Eleven-year-old Willie Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, passed away in 1862, when his father was leading the country in the midst of Civil War and debates against slavery. This book is based on this true story. It is a story about the little boy in the ‘bardo’; a place, a state of existence between death and rebirth (in Tibetan Buddhism). Not only him, but also about the other souls prevailing in the same place and situation, and about Abraham Lincoln.

The most impressive thing about this novel, and the writer, for me, is that it combined fictional prose and real excerpts from historical resources in its body. The amount of research and the construction skill it takes! George Saunders has done a masterpiece. My favorite part of the historical excerpts is the one describing Abraham Lincoln’s physical features. My favorite part of the fiction is when Willie left the bardo, and the time of departure of the other characters. The flashback to their past, the glimpse of what could have been their future.

The second most impressive thing for me is that the book illustrated the social structures and conflicts in the then United States (or Disunited States) from a fresh perspective and voice. Saunders is very strong in articulation: he combined various voices, dialects, speed, and style, to project different personalities. As a writer, he’s made himself one of a kind.

 

On Goodreads.

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