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Archive 08-19 GR Discussions > Lincoln in the Bardo, our Fall 2017 Group Read

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message 1: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
Setting up this thread for our next group read of Lincoln in the Bardo Our discussion leader will be Irene, who will post a reading schedule for us.

message 2: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments The chapters are short with lots of white space on the page, so I am hoping it will read quickly. Here is the reading schedule I am proposing.

Begin the discussion on Nov. 5
Week of Nov 5 - discuss ch. 1-XXIX
Week of Nov. 12 - discuss ch. XXX - end of part one
Nov. 19 - discuss beginning of part two - ch. LXXV
Week of Nov. 26 - discuss ch. LXXVI - end of book

message 3: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Just saw that this one won the Man Booker.

message 4: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
Sounds good Irene!
I did not know this one won the Man Booker. Interesting!

So who will be joining us? I have my copy. :-)

message 5: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments The Man Booker was just announced yesterday morning. The timing of this worked out perfectly.

message 6: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
NPR article about this book winning this prize! As you say, Irene, perfect timing!

message 7: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I just post-it marked the read sections in my copy, and I see what you mean Irene, many of these chapters are only a page long, and there is a lot of white on some pages and very little text. Should be a quicker read.

message 8: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Yes, that is what I am hoping, that it will not be tough for people to read the assigned section each week.

message 9: by Petra (new)

Petra I would like to join you in this read. I'm picking up the audio tomorrow and will start on Monday's commute.

message 10: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Great

message 11: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
Excellent Petra. I have picked this one up to get started. It is a quick read. Very unique too. Hmm.....

I am curious as to how this one reads on audio Petra, as there are many many characters talking (and they are labeled as such in the book).

message 12: by Petra (new)

Petra It's an interesting experience, Sheila. There are many, many voices. All are distinct but I don't know who many of them are. Does the book name the person who speaks? The audio doesn't, so I have to figure out who the person is in the story.
I'm not sure where this story is going yet but it's an interesting premise.

message 13: by Petra (new)

Petra Actually, the people's names are mentioned briefly when they first speak. Not after that and I can't remember which voice belongs to who. However, the individual voices are clear and distinct.
I rather like the format of this story for audio. It's working well.
There are long pauses, which I will guess are the "lots of white" on the printed page.

message 14: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
Well at least having distinct voices would help you be able to separate who is talking, since they go back and forth so much.

I am enjoying the story. I was a bit confused at first, but am liking it more the further I get into it.

message 15: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I read the section for this week's discussion. I am not exactly sure what I am reading. I think I like the voices of those caught between life and death. But, all the exerps from other books, not so sure that is working for me. What are people's initial thoughts on this first quarter of the book?

message 16: by Petra (new)

Petra I was drawn right in, Irene. I didn't have a clue where the story was going to go, so just went with the flow.
I liked the headlines/excerpts. I thought they really added background and dimension to what Abraham Lincoln had gone through, how he may have felt and how the Country viewed him. It was, I thought, an interesting method of using few words to portray a lot.
The voices and stories of those caught between are wonderful. That idea of Limbo is an interesting one.

message 17: by Joelle.P.S (last edited Nov 05, 2017 03:21PM) (new)

Joelle.P.S I heard about the many narrators in the audiobook in a George Saunders interview, so I waited till an audio version was available from my library before starting to read the book. I'm listening, but also following on the page (or rather, ebook). I enjoy hearing the voices, which really help distinguish characters (I think the voices evoke character images in my head more than words on the page alone would) -- but I also like seeing their names printed each time (in case I've forgotten). So far I'm finding the format quite interesting, including the switchback between the characters in the bardo v. the excerpts from "historical" sources.

message 18: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I am listening to the audio without the visual. I am not having any problem distinguishing who is speaking. Is anyone just reading the book? Is it clear or confusing in print alone?

message 19: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I am just reading, and have to say I am enjoying the ride. In the print version it is clearly labeled who is speaking, and for the book excerpts they are clearly labeled.

For the first few chapters I was wondering "what the heck is this?" but as I continued I am finding myself really enjoying the format. As Petra said, it is an interesting method of using few words to portray a lot.

message 20: by Petra (new)

Petra I'm glad that we're all enjoying this book.

message 21: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Why do the other characters react so strongly to Lincoln's presence, his embrace of his dead son's body?

message 22: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I think because they are all dead, and have been in this cemetery for so long (many of these ghosts and souls seem to be from quite a distance in the past) that the sight of a living human embracing one of them (a dead person with a soul) effects them deeply. This is not the normal thing that happens in the cemetery.

message 23: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I finally looked up to see what Bardo was, as it is part of the title of this book.

From the Wikipedia article: "Used loosely, "bardo" is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one's next birth, when one's consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one's previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality, while for others it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth."

message 24: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Thanks for that info. In a book review, I learned that Bardo was a Buddhist state of transition after death, but I did not know about the danger there. I wonder if the past lives of these characters will give rise to such dangerous hallucinations.

I am also wondering about the connection between Lincoln and his dead son. We are told that children usually move quickly through this phase. And, it appears that to move along is a good thing. Than, will Lincoln's clinging to his son's body prevent the boy from moving on? And is this a negative consequence? If so, than wouldn't these dead souls want him to be able to move on? Why then be so taken by Lincoln's gesture if it holds the boy here?

message 25: by Joelle.P.S (new)

Joelle.P.S Irene wrote: "Why do the other characters react so strongly to Lincoln's presence, his embrace of his dead son's body?"

I think they're so desperate not to admit they're dead (& forgotten) themselves, that such a dramatic acknowledgement from a still-living person for any 1 of them gives all the others hope that they too are still remembered & loved (& may someday return). At first they see that act only in relation to themselves, not to the unreal hope it gives Willie.

message 26: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments So what do you think as part 1 draws to a close? I am confused. I am not sure if a person is supposed to move on or to hold on to this Bardo state? The children move quickly. That would imply that they are not tethered to this life and have the freedom to move to the next stage. But people are also told to resist the temptation of those who call them to let go fo this world. Are we supposed to see the next stage as good or bad? This bardo existence does not seem all that pleasant, so why try to help Willie or anyone else stay here?

message 27: by Petra (new)

Petra Irene, can you give a brief description of where this section ends, please? I don't want to give away any spoilers.

message 28: by Petra (last edited Nov 12, 2017 10:08AM) (new)

Petra I'll add that I felt the same way you are at some point, which I think is around where we're discussing. The Bardo is an interesting place; at this point, it's a bit of a conundrum.
The people seem comfortable where they are, yet they want the kids to move along quickly (and they usually do), so there's a feeling that "somewhere else" may offer more or that the Bardo isn't suitable for kids for some reason.
At this point, I decided to go with the flow of the book and let it tell me what it had to say. My mind couldn't decide what was good, bad, true or real about the people and the Bardo.

message 29: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments The two bardo folks have joined Lincoln at a distance from the coffin. Sitting in his lap, they can feel what he feels and think what he thinks. They try to communicate with him and manage to get him to focus on the key in his pocket and to return to where Willy's body is housed. They also seem to realize for the first time, the passage of time since they died.

message 30: by Petra (new)

Petra Ahh, I thought that scene was further along.
I found it interesting that the Bardo folks learned the history that had occurred since their deaths. They were, until they linked with Lincoln, unaware that the world continued without them.
In the Bardo, there doesn't seem to be a discrepancy between souls who had been born in different times, they each thought the world continued as in their lives and these different time lines didn't seem to be noticed by any of them.
The Bardo is somehow a small place, in that way, and doesn't allow for awareness or growth. One is truly stuck, both in place and time.

Linking gave these 2 souls a growth and awareness, that changes their perspective. Isolation keeps the souls rooted in places where it may not be best for them to be. It doesn't allow for sight or direction.

message 31: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments They did not know and they did know. When these two characters figure out that this man is president, they admit that they had heard that there were other presidents, that things had changed since they had lived, but it had never been part of their understanding. Inside Lincoln, they finally grasped, understood, accepted the passage of time and changing reality. You would think that children and teens would have a more difficult time letting go of their perception of how things are. They experienced less change in their short lives. But, they don't cling the way others do. And, I can't figure the pattern of who clings to the bardo and who does not. Some have strong relational ties and some do not. Some have strong dreams and some do not. Some are social in the bardo and some are isolated. Maybe I am trying too hard, but this is not a normal story in which I can just get swept along in the unfolding narrative. This feels like a literary equivalent of performance art.

message 32: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I was picturing those that are fighting to remain in the bardo as maybe those who might be going to hell otherwise so they are fighting to not go? As it seemed that the things that came to try to take souls were somehow evil, like they were trying to convice the souls there that they were people that they were not. It felt evil to me, and it seemed like they were fighting to not go with the evil. I would imagine the children souls probably go to heaven, so they leave quickly? The ones staying behind might be hoping for a way to change their perceived fate?

message 33: by Petra (new)

Petra I agree, Sheila.
I'm not sure if Willie quite comprehends that he's dead. He's not sure whether to trust the "light" or the people of the Bardo.
Willie is at a pivotal age. He's no longer young enough to believe as young children do, and he's not old enough to know how to differentiate from truth/lie when he's told something.
It must be an awful age to die, if the Bardo does actually exist.

message 34: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I did not pick up on a clear moral distinction between those in the bardo. There is the one couple who seem pretty sleezy. The temptation for them to leave comes in the form of their long lost daughter who does not even know her brother's name. But, there is also the mother of the little girls who are left with a harsh father who is tempted to leave by the spector of those daughters. She seems like a decent person and a caring mother. She does not seem to fear hell, but fears leaving her daughters without her protection.

message 35: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I guess I am picturing this somewhat like the old Patrick Swayze movie, Ghost. He got killed, but and could have gone to the light, but stayed behind as a "ghost" to protect his girlfriend. There were other ghosts left behind there too, some waiting to finish something they needed to do, others evil. Evil things came to take the bad dead people to hell. And in the end, after Patrick's ghost accomplished what he needed to do, he went to the light. So I guess I am seeing this bardo as a place where there can be the bad trying to avoid hell, the good who still have something to finish, and the confused who are in limbo because they don't know what to do.

message 36: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Never saw that movie. But, your description makes sense. I want to finish the book, but know that if I read ahead I will not be able to lead the discussion because I will get confused about what happened in which section. This is a much quicker read than I had anticipated.

message 37: by Petra (new)

Petra Maybe take a poll of where we're at in our reading?

I've finished the book. Discussion is difficult because I can't remember what happened when (for discussion purposes).

message 38: by Petra (new)

Petra I loved Ghost. That was a terrific movie. I wonder if it's aged well, though. It might be fun to see it again.

message 39: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Where is everyone in the book?

I stopped at the end of part 1 so that I would not confuse comments in the discussion. But, I could quickly finish.

message 40: by Joelle.P.S (new)

Joelle.P.S I've also paused at the end of Part 1.

message 41: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I stopped just to stick with the schedule, but I could read also this one quickly.

message 42: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments Do we want to read all of part 2 for Sunday and complete the discussion?

message 43: by Joelle.P.S (new)

Joelle.P.S That would be okay with me: I should have adequate audiobook time this weekend.

message 44: by Sheila , Supporting Chick (new)

Sheila  | 3485 comments Mod
I don't mind continuing. I have already finished this week's section, and can easily finish the rest in a day or two.

message 45: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments OK, lets try to finish the book by Sunday. If that is a problem for anyone, just post and we will hold off with any spoilers until you can finish.

message 46: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I found these questions on line. If any of them interest you, feel free to answer. Maybe they can help us get a conversation going about this book.

1. What is the bardo, and how does it function in George Saunder's book? In what way does the bardo apply to those who are living as well as the dead?

2. Talk about the various denizens of the cemetery, the ghosts who narrate and chatter among themselves. Which ghost stories did you find particularly engaging…funny…moving…sad…maybe even irritable? Were you disoriented, even put off, by the multiplicity of voices, or were you able to maintain your footing? Was there a point at which the ghosts took on a "life" of their own...where their actions developed into a cohesive plot?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: All of the ghosts seem to hang on to their anger and resentments, desires and feelings—the emotions they felt during their lives?

4. Why are the ghosts so stunned by Lincoln's cradling his son in his arms. What does that signify to the ghosts?

5. What does Lincoln come to understand, through his own personal loss, about the carnage of the war and the cost in lives and misery for an entire nation?

6. Talk about the two old codgers, Hans Vollman and Roger Bevins III. Would you consider them the "heroes" of the novel? Why are they so eager to have Will leave the cemetery. Where do they want him to go? What will happen should he "tarry"?

7. Why is the Reverend, unlike all the other spirits, willing to admit he is dead? And why is he convinced he will be excluded from heaven?

8. In what way does the cemetery reflect the class structure of the 19th Century? What do you make of the Rev. Thomas's explanation: "It is not about wealth. It is about comportment. It is about, let us say, being 'wealthy in spirit.'" Who among the spirits, if any of them, are "wealthy in spirit"?

9. Although the preponderant mood of the novel is dark, there is also a fair amount of hilarity. Can you you point to some passages/episodes that you found particularly funny? The bachelor ghosts, for instance?

message 47: by Irene (new)

Irene | 4030 comments I think I am more confused about this conception of the after life than I was at the beginning. Why are we told early on that most children leave the bardo quickly? It seemed like their leaving was easy, no struggle. But then we have the ugly image of Willy struggling in that carapace. He certainly does not go easily or quickly. Why? Why don't the other residents of this bardo want Willy to be taken away by this caropase? When they talk of the other children leaving, it does not seem like they have any negative feelings about their swift departure?

What is that horrid vision of torment all about, the one that the minister gets? Is it some fault in him or something else? And, why does his terror of moving to the next phase seem to ease as he struggles with Willy?

Why do all the residents lose their ugly, distorted appearance when they all try to inhabit Lincoln?

Who/what are these supposedly demonic forces that try to trick or capture residents of the Bardo?

message 48: by Petra (last edited Nov 19, 2017 09:24AM) (new)

Petra Irene, I'll put this in spoilers in case you haven't finished yet. It's about your questions about children leaving:
(view spoiler)

message 49: by Petra (new)

Petra Irene, do you mean the vision the minister gets when he dies and is condemned to Hell?
The minister's vision is still a question to me. He seems to have lived a good life, with good intentions. Yet his life was a horror and he was denied entry into Heaven.
He saves himself from Hell by running but is now condemned to the Bardo.
Throughout the book, his intentions, actions and thoughts are decent ones. I'm not sure why he would have been denied access to Heaven.

message 50: by Petra (new)

Petra 5. What does Lincoln come to understand, through his own personal loss, about the carnage of the war and the cost in lives and misery for an entire nation?

I found this passage very touching.
Lincoln's pain and suffering over his son's death came through so emotionally; it really hit me. His pain for one small child combined with his duties as President. He saw each parent, brother, sister, family feeling this pain for their one dead family member and multiplied it across the country for each and every death caused by the war.
Seeing grief that way shows the horrid consequences of War; the fear of fighting, the deaths incurred and the ultimate pain & suffering left to the families. That pain is forever.

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