Read: September 2017
Adjectives To Describe This Book: Difficult, Different, Genre Bending, Heartbreaking
Lincoln In The Bardo was my first George Saunders book, so I was quite excited when I started it.
Unfortunately, my feelings of excitement quickly and rapidly moved to become ‘confused’. You see the book has multiple narrators – real and unreal. By this I mean, that some are fictional and then some are real excerpts from reports, journals, letters from that time.
Confused too? Let me explain by telling you what the story is. Willie Lincoln, the favourite son of the late President, Abraham Lincoln, dies at the tender age of eleven. There is no ‘burial’ but the body is placed in a tomb. The story is of Willie’s spirit in the ‘Bardo’ i.e. in Tibetan Buddhism, a state of existence between death and rebirth. He doesn’t ‘tarry’ or move on and hence, the other spirits around him who haven’t moved on either decide to help and guide him. On the way, you hear stories of their life and death and in a way, they all help each other come to terms with just that – their life and death.
The storyline of the book unfolds with the narration of the spirits in the graveyard and the excerpts of real people at the time around this unfortunate incident. I thought I would get used to the multiple narrators as I went through the book, but that wasn’t the case. Even though it was jarring, it was something I have never experienced before.
The excerpts and citations of various people – researched books, private letters – all tell very contrary tales. For example, the place and brightness or lack thereof of the moon or the color of Lincoln’s eyes or his character – kind or cruel. Saunders puts forth these different polarizing opinions on one page and it’s striking! Got to give a man credit for his research.
P.S. I found this very relevant in today’s day and age. Turns out ‘fake news’ isn’t a new age term.
The plot itself is beautiful and heartbreaking. The magical element attached to it adds the intrigue and hence, the differentiation. Also, I’m totally a sucker for anything pertaining to history.
Will this book change your life in any way? Probably not. But it is an interesting read not only for the content but also in the style that it is written. Also, it just won the Man Booker Prize 2017. Congratulations George Saunders.