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Lincoln in the Bardo

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  65,310 Ratings  ·  12,377 Reviews
In his long-awaited first novel, American master George Saunders delivers his most original, transcendent, and moving work yet. Unfolding in a graveyard over the course of a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a literary experience unlike any other—for no one but Saunders could conceive it.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than
...more
Hardcover, 343 pages
Published February 14th 2017 by Random House
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Peter McCambridge I'm really enjoying the audio now, but I agree the early chapters read like footnotes you couldn't speedread your way through. It becomes much more…moreI'm really enjoying the audio now, but I agree the early chapters read like footnotes you couldn't speedread your way through. It becomes much more enjoyable, and better suited to audio, from about an hour in. (less)
Jennifer Kennedy Bevins wanted to appreciate living on earth with all of his senses and regretted not doing so while he was living. So, his sensory organs are…moreBevins wanted to appreciate living on earth with all of his senses and regretted not doing so while he was living. So, his sensory organs are multiplied in the Bardo as a warped manifestation of his wishes. The reverend and all of the characters in the Bardo do not admit to having made any mistakes, or they at least come up with justifications for their mistakes they made while living. So, they can't move on until they are truthful with themselves. (less)

Community Reviews

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Liz
Mar 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
I should have known. I really don't do well with the avant garde. I want a plot, I want a story. I want character development. This offers none of the above. I felt lost. Vague memories of Ionesco and Beckett kept cropping up as I tried to plough through this. The book alternates between reading like a thesis, full of quotes from “other” sources and then almost more like a play. Ghosts come and ghosts go. They each have their own little mini-story but there is little continuity. Some ghosts appe ...more
Angela M
Oct 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing


It's a beautiful and sad but a strangely told story, and the narrative is different from anything I've read . The back of the cover description tells a poignant detail about Lincoln which Saunders in the Q&A tells us was the thought that formed for him the heart of this story. At the time of his 11 year old son Willie's death by typhoid fever, it was reported that Lincoln went to the crypt at night to hold his son's body. The grief that one can almost feel in that image is the essence of thi
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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
”The rich notes of the Marine Band in the apartments below came to the sick-room in soft, subdued murmurs, like the wild, faint sobbing of far off spirits.” Keckley, op. cit.

 photo Willie20Lincoln_zpsfmtoapkd.jpg

William Wallace Lincoln is sick.

He is burning up with fever.

His head is pounding to the beat of a song with a faster tempo than what he hears seeping through the floorboards from below.

He...can’t...breathe.

It feels like a fat man is squatting on his chest.

His father comes to see him. His eyes are hollowed out cinders.
...more
Elyse
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From the first day I saw that George Sanders had a new release--I kept walking. I had a lot of resistance to read George Sanders again.
"The Tenth of December" was the number 1 best seller for months and months.....
Everyone seemed to 'LOVE' it. OUTSTANDING they all said. NOT FOR ME....I didn't understand the hype. It was 'alright'.....but not 'wow' for me by any means.
I remember thinking another 'lesser name' --- at the time --RISING today--was the OUTSTANDING collection of short stories -that
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Lisa
Feb 23, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, tob-2018
Yes, I know I stand alone in my dislike for this book. EVERYONE loves it. Nope, not me. I actually hated it. I've heard people say they wanted to throw a book across a room and I never understood that desire to harm a book, but for me, this is one to throw. I should know better than to read a book in which the review says something like "an alternative writing" "a different way of telling a story". That just means it's weird, no plot, no character development, an author trying something new that ...more
Hannah Greendale
Click here to watch a video review of this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Cheri
Dec 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
!! NOW AVAILABLE !!

4.5 Stars

How does one review a book such as this one? No words could possibly truly convey the potential journey a reader is embarking on when they open this novel. This is certainly nothing like any other book I’ve read, in concept or in style.

Before I requested this, I looked up several references to the definition of the bardo, both the Tibetan definition and how it’s meaning carries beyond the definition. Bardo is the “in-between place” a “transitional state,” the period
...more
Diane S ☔
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor
Wow, this wasn't just reading a novel it was a true reading experience. Wholly inventive, imaginative, the amount of research staggering, something totally new and different. Will admit having some trouble in the beginning, couldn't see where the author was going with this, wondering if it was gong to progress, it did in a very interesting way. Not going to rehash the plot, the description only loosely defines this. The book is helped along by some very unusual narrators, Vollmam and Bevins, alo ...more
Taryn
Feb 08, 2017 rated it liked it
I had a complicated relationship with this book. The writing was exquisite and I was amazed at the brilliance of the author, but there were also long sections where I felt completely lost.

The tide runs out but never runs in. The stones roll downhill but do not roll back up.


What I'm about to write doesn't even begin to sum this book up! President Abraham Lincoln's beloved eleven-year-old son Willie passes away after an illness. However, Willie doesn't realize he's dead. His soul is stuck in a t
...more
Sam
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017-reads
Lincoln in the Bardo is such a beautifully crystallized portrait of life, death, grief, and getting on, and really emphasizes our shared humanity in its unusual storytelling. I started and stopped in fits, but one massive read in a single sitting was the way for me to go on this, allowing it to crash and wash over me completely, and get acquainted with the style and be fully receptive to the ideas expressed here. Once submerged in the unique format, I was incredibly moved by the way Saunders is ...more
Jen
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Sorry Saunders, but I disliked your novel. Clearly, I'm swimming against the current on this one. Having read some convincing reviews, I thought it must be included in my TBR this year. Well, I almost tossed it aside 100 pages in and probably should have and not given it a rating.

This is a read of loss. A parent - president Lincoln - has lost his 11 year old son to an illness.
The bardo - is the place between heaven and hell - a purgatory of sorts. It's a story of ghosts, and of Willie, who are
...more
Emily May
May 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
What a painfully boring book. 166 narrators chiming in and overlapping in a story that seems so random and disconnected for the most part. It might be deep, and it might be clever, but if there isn't the barest spark of something to make you care what's on the next page - then why even bother turning it?

I gave up at 35%. Life is way too short.
LeAnne
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
"And if you go.. chasing rabbits,
and you know you're.. going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar
has given you the call."


The unusual format, like oddly punctuated and inverted lines of a play, was fine by me. It just took some adjustment, and then it was easy to read.

But the random, psychedelic-seeming thought trains were way too artsy for me, and the periodic sophomoric vulgarity struck me as stupid (sorry). I did not titter for an instant. There was definitely a plot to follow, but lik
...more
Diane Barnes
Feb 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
ADDITION TO REVIEW AFTER LISTENING TO AUDIO

This is the most unusual, incredible reading experience I have ever had. George Saunders is either a genius, or an other-worldly creature living among us and posing as an author.

I will leave the book description to Goodreads and the book jacket. I will only say this: if you enter this world and let yourself be carried along, you will emerge a different reader at the end. Some of you may not be able to do this, some of you may not wish to accept what is
...more
Kevin Ansbro
"My son, here may indeed be torment, but not death."
—Dante (Purgatorio)

There really, really must be something wrong with me.
Many of my esteemed Goodreads friends, whose rave reviews I put a lot of faith in, are smitten with George Saunders' book. It's even won the blimmin' Booker Prize for crying out loud!

Um, where to begin? *he says, wringing his hands in the manner of a doctor delivering bad news*

I tried my hardest to like it, I really did - in the same way I once tried to like green smooth
...more
Robin
**Man Booker Prize Winner!**

The way a moistness in the eye will blur a field of stars; the sore place on the shoulder a resting toboggan makes; writing one's beloved's name upon a frosted window with a gloved finger.
Tying a shoe; tying a knot on a package; a mouth on yours; a hand on yours; the ending of the day; the beginning of the day; the feeling that there will always be a day ahead.
Goodbye, I must now say goodbye to all of it.


George Saunders has written a magnificent, unique, experimenta
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Imagine the historical research approach of someone like David McCullough, and pull those details into a novel that takes place almost entirely in a graveyard, ghosts and all (picture The Graveyard Book), and you have this novel. I was lucky to receive a review copy of the audiobook from the publisher, because I think this is the preferred format for the novel.

Since George Saunders wrote the novel in 108 sections, with distinct voices, they decided to use 166 voices in the recording (Time Magaz
...more
Darwin8u
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, aere-perennius
"He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness."
- George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo

description

Again, I find myself wandering at night alone, reading grief literature. I'm not sure if I have just accidentally stumbled on my own special vein of grief literature or if this dark path has suddenly become more popular ("to hell with erotic fiction, let us read tales of the sad survivors"). But, here I am, writing another transuding review of another sad book. No.
...more
Steve
Apr 21, 2017 rated it liked it
You know those half-awake, half-asleep dreams where you’re working through your problems of the day? The first wakeful moments in the shower usually let you know that any solutions you thought might apply were pure nonsense. Even more often you realize the things you were thinking about weren’t really problems anyway – it was all just anxiety for the hell of it. Anyway, last night I went to bed thinking about what I might say about this celebrated new Saunders book I just read. Even as I was fal ...more
Jaline
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an intriguing book; one that is very inventive and yet its basic premise is based on strong possibilities, if not probabilities. There are brief historical excerpts throughout from various sources that are amazing in that they outline stronger than ever that “eye witness” testimony is pretty much wasted without a camera to back it up. For example, on a historically memorable night 5 or 10 people can look at the same night sky and see no moon at all, or a moon – but in about 5 or 6 differ ...more
Bookdragon Sean
It is becoming increasingly hard to create original literature these days. The fundamental problem with modern art is that everything has been done before. Writers, painters and musicians have to concoct something extraordinarily different to be new.

And George Saunders has done exactly that. There has never been a book quite like this before and that’s why it won the Man Booker Prize 2017. The judges for the last few years have been weighing literary originality over literary quality in my opini
...more
Perry
Feb 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Like a cosmic chorus in 'cordial unison' under brocades of blue, twinkling white willows and a rain of red glare

George Saunders' brilliant literary achievement is the ideal book for the Fourth of July in profoundly reminding us of our union as citizens of the United States of America, this great nation created by our forefathers' Declaration of Independence from the "absolute Despotism," "long train of abuses and usurpations" and "invasions on the rights of the people" by the then "King of Great
...more
Trish
The form of this novel is what readers will notice first. It begins as a series of quotes from reporters’ notebooks, eyewitness accounts, historians using original sources, and we must assume, Civil War-era gossip rags, describing an 1862 White House party which a thousand or more people attended. To say the affair was elaborate understates the case. Apparently when a thousand hungry guests descended on the tables of food, the quantity was such that it looked untouched after the assault.

Some of
...more
Jill
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-2016
One of my great passions in life is reading – and reviewing – books. But how to review this book? It renders me speechless and. I almost feel compelled to reduce my review to two words: “Read it.”

Years ago, I learned, while visiting the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, that Abraham Lincoln was so prostrated by grief after the death of his favorite son Willie that he visited the crypt for months afterwards, opening the coffin and stroking the face and hair of his deceased son. It’s a maca
...more
William1
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I avoid the G word. That’s a determination I like to put off until rereading. But this novel’s certainly masterful. I have read nothing so near perfect in some years. The narrative rides a kind of knife edge, between unbearable sorrow one moment and comic relief the next.

‘Almost unbearably moving’ was what Anthony Burgess used to say about some of the better books he reviewed. I must say the same with regard to Lincoln in the Bardo—it’s almost unbearably moving. It’s about unendurable personal
...more
Linda
Grief knows no limits. Its ever-growing tendrils seek out the most tender of hearts. It resides with the weight of its heaviness to such a state that breathing full, cleansing breaths is almost impossible.

"The terror and consternation of the Presidential couple may be imagined by anyone who has ever loved a child, and suffered that dread intimation common to all parents, that Fate may not hold that life in as high a regard, and may dispose of it at will."

February of 1862 brings with it an end to
...more
Matthew Quann
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: avant-garde, black humour fans
Update: Booker Prize Winner 2017, a well deserved win for this excellent novel!

I came upon Lincoln in the Bardo as someone comes upon a house on fire—tentatively. Placing a hand to the embossed dust jacket and turning deckle-edged pages at random filled me with the sphincter-tightening dread, which I have previously equated to looking down at the earth from a significant height. It seemed as if the book were more screenplay than proper novel, and I had no interest in dawdling amidst incomprehens
...more
Dianne
** MAN BOOKER 2017 WINNER **

Amazing! I just finished reading this a second time, which is what always happens with 5 star books for me. I’m a bit surprised! I disliked Saunders’ “Tenth of December” very much, so I was a little wary of this one. But – so many of my trusted Goodreads friends loved this (Angela, Elyse, Cheri, Alena, Connie, Laura…..and so many other wonderful friends and reviewers), that I had to give it a shot.

At first, I wasn’t in love with Saunders’ narrative device. The story,
...more
Phrynne
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 4000-books, favorites
This was one of the most unusual books I have ever read! I think it is what you would have to describe as a reading experience since it is told in multiple voices aided by constant footnotes attributing the text to its sources. So clever! And so much research. The author must have become a real expert on Abraham Lincoln by the time he finished writing.
Amazingly the whole fascinating book takes place over one night immediately after Lincoln's young son's funeral. Lincoln makes a last visit to his
...more
Duane
Occasionally a book comes along that pushes the envelope of normalcy in writing novels. A unique concept that readers don’t see in everyday reading. And when that concept combines an interesting subject with good characters and excellent writing, well, it gives us something special. I haven’t seen another book compare to this in uniqueness since David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.

The events in this book occur in a single night in Washington, D.C. in 1862. Willie Linco
...more
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Oakville Reads: * Question #5: Empathy 2 5 12 hours, 48 min ago  
Oakville Reads: * Question #4: Historical Fiction 4 8 12 hours, 56 min ago  
South Shore Readers: Discussion: Lincoln in the Bardo 6 9 Jun 18, 2018 07:26AM  
Oakville Reads: Question #1: First impressions 8 22 Jun 14, 2018 07:58AM  
Oakville Reads: * Question #3: Ghosts 2 9 Jun 13, 2018 08:34AM  
Powell's Indiespe...: Lincoln in the Bardo 3 28 Jun 05, 2018 07:28PM  
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George Saunders was born December 2, 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He worked at Radian International, an environmental engineering firm in Rochester, NY as a technical writer and geophysical engineer from 1989 to 1996. He has also worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysi ...more
More about George Saunders

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“His mind was freshly inclined toward sorrow; toward the fact that the world was full of sorrow; that everyone labored under some burden of sorrow; that all were suffering; that whatever way one took in this world, one must try to remember that all were suffering (none content; all wronged, neglected, overlooked, misunderstood), and therefore one must do what one could to lighten the load of those with whom one came into contact; that his current state of sorrow was not uniquely his, not at all, but, rather, its like had been felt, would be felt, by scores of others, in all times, in every time, and must not be prolonged or exaggerated, because, in this state, he could be of no help to anyone and, given that his position in the world situated him to be either of great help, or great harm, it would not do to stay low, if he could help it.” 66 likes
“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.” 56 likes
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