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Lincoln in the Bardo

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  7,267 Ratings  ·  1,708 Reviews
The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War

On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arri
Hardcover, 343 pages
Published February 14th 2017 by Random House
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Angela M
Oct 30, 2016 Angela M rated it it was amazing
The more I read reviews of this, the more convinced I am that this deserves 5 stars so I'm adding a star to my previous 4 stars . Other wise my review is unchanged.

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 t
Mar 12, 2017 Elyse 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
Dec 29, 2016 Cheri rated it it was amazing

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
Diane S ☔
Oct 07, 2016 Diane S ☔ 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
Jan 07, 2017 Sam 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
Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 12, 2017 Jeffrey Keeten 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.


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

His father comes to see him. His eyes are hollowed out cinders. H
Feb 08, 2017 Taryn 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
Diane Barnes
Feb 17, 2017 Diane Barnes rated it it was amazing

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
Jan 10, 2017 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2017
"He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness."
- George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo


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.
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
Jun 02, 2016 Jill 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
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
Mar 14, 2017 Liz 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
Mar 12, 2017 Robin rated it it was amazing
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, experimental work that is both heartbre
Feb 22, 2017 Perry rated it it was amazing
A Brilliant Benediction to the Perseverance and Endurance of the Human Spirit and for Abraham Lincoln, Universally Acknowledged as the Greatest President in U. S. history

Set in the Washington, D.C. cemetery's "Bardo" (Tibetan term something akin to the more familiar Purgatory), Lincoln in the Bardo's analeptic narrative is driven by three vibrant primary characters:

Hans Vollman, a charmingly gruff printer who carries about nude with a gigantic turgid member [in the Bardo, you exist as you died];
Mar 10, 2017 Phrynne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 4000-books
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 an 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 son
Peter Boyle
Feb 23, 2017 Peter Boyle rated it it was amazing
"Great sobs choked his utterance. He buried his head in his hands, and his tall frame was convulsed with emotion."

A master of the short story has finally graced us with his first novel. And my goodness, it has been worth the wait. Lincoln in the Bardo truly defies description - part historical fiction, part ghost story, told in a multitude of voices. It is refreshingly original, magnificently inventive and I'll be amazed if I read a better book this year.

It's 1862 and the Lincolns are hosting a
Jan 08, 2017 Rebbie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
Dnf @ 48%

I'm still giving this 4 stars even though I failed to finish it twice, because the fault is my own and the book itself is genius. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it won the Pulitzer this year, or was at least nominated.

I'm currently sick with strep throat and have been for over a week now, so it's impossible for me to keep up with this story due to the unique way it's written. I even tried starting completely over, but still didn't make it to the halfway point the second time around
Matthew Quann
Mar 09, 2017 Matthew Quann rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: avant-garde, black humour fans
UPDATE 28/March/2017:
It's been optioned for film!

For those not interested in a weird review style: I thought this was terrific, and it is absolutely worth your time.

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
Feb 22, 2017 Sarah rated it it was amazing
I finished this book by accident, thinking there were 30 pages to go. I gasped and burst into tears; I wasn't ready to let go of the characters, wasn't ready to leave the world. I don't know how to put all my feelings into words here. The premise is entirely unique; the structure of the novel is unlike anything I've seen before; and the author's deft maneuvering of language and tone is unparalleled. I believe that: I can't think of another author writing today who can weave a world the way Saund ...more
Jan 29, 2017 Melanie rated it it was amazing
"Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do w ...more
Ron Charles
Feb 09, 2017 Ron Charles rated it really liked it
The long wait for a novel from short-story genius George Saunders is finally over. And as anyone who knows Saunders’s work would expect, his first novel is a strikingly original production, a divisively odd book bound either to dazzle or alienate readers.

Distinct from the poignant satires he has published in the New Yorker and elsewhere, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is an extended national ghost story, an erratically funny and piteous seance of grief. The Lincoln of the title is our 16th president; th
Mar 08, 2017 Laura rated it it was amazing! This is so unique in nature. One of the best audio's I have had the pleasure to listen to. I look forward to reading the hard copy. This is so different. It has it all....comedy, tragedy, drama.
Feb 25, 2017 Hadrian rated it it was amazing

The thing would be won.

Saunders' work views the world from a lens held too distant or too close -- it turns the subject upside down, distorts it, makes it blurred and delirious, but you recognize the outline. He writes about a Civil War theme park with historically inaccurate coolies, and he writes about suburban mothers who collect impoverished foreign children and string them up on the front lawn. The scenarios are, on the face of it, absurd, but the principles and causes behind them are famil
Marilyn C.
Mar 04, 2017 Marilyn C. rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2017
Imaginative, vulgar, humorous, but most of all the permeating theme in Lincoln in the Bardo was sadness.

The year is 1862, almost a year into the Civil War, and Willie Lincoln has passed away. He is now in this bizarre purgatory called "The Bardo," where there are other ghostly apparitions who have still not gone on to the next step in their journey. All different walks of life are there, and George Saunders uses these other-worldly voices, with the addition of historical texts, to tell a story t
Mar 22, 2017 Connie rated it it was amazing
It's February 1862, and President Lincoln's nine-year-old son Willie has died. He is interred in Oak Hill Cemetery, but his spirit is still in the "bardo", a transitional state between life and whatever comes next in Tibetan Buddhist beliefs. The cemetery is full of spirits that talk about their lives, and also about President Lincoln's visits to the cemetery.

The President comes alone on horseback in the middle of the night to see Willie again. He opens the coffin and tenderly holds his son in g
Feb 18, 2017 Lee rated it liked it
One of the greatest/luckiest purchases of my life was pulling CivilWarLand in Bad Decline off the shelf at Micawber's Books in Princeton one evening in '97 or '98. I hadn't heard of the author and loved the first story I read so took a day off the next day and drove to the beach to read the rest in one long sandy sitting. Pastoralia followed a year or so later and deepened my love, but then came The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and I started to worry he might be slipping -- since then I'v ...more
Mar 09, 2017 Tatiana marked it as abandoned
Hmm, praises, praises, and almost nobody is saying how UNfun reading this "novel" is.

It is UNfun to listen to the audio. Because "160+ narrators" doesn't actually mean a full cast of narrators bringing a story to life, but a bunch of people whose voices you can't learn to recognize and associate with a particular character, except maybe 1 or 2. Listening to 160+ people read often 1-2 sentence each only and then have another reader identify the character afterwards is NOT fun. It is distracting a
Jan 26, 2017 Mel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-picks, 2017
I've read, and I've listened to Lincoln in the Bardo and will review referencing both formats.
Some information that might be helpful to those struggling with the presentation of this little novel, since it seems to be a starting hiccup, even a source of contention for some, especially those listening to the audio version (fantastic choice, by the way). Much has, and will be written about the style Saunders has chosen for this magnificent ground breaking novel. Every word I've read from Saunders
Feb 23, 2017 Lisa rated it did not like it
Shelves: audio
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
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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.” 14 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.” 9 likes
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