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Lincoln in the Bardo
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Lincoln in the Bardo > Question #5: Empathy

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 18, 2018 01:42PM) (new)

One review noted that “the project of Lincoln in the Bardo is to practice empathy.” Is this evident to you as a reader? What if anything, did you gain from reading this novel?


message 2: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan (susanopl) | 472 comments Mod
I think the reader is called upon to feel empathy for many of the ghosts - what they've gone through in their lives on earth, their uncertain status in the Bardo, and their eventual eternal lives.

The most empathy I felt was for Lincoln himself, grieving his son. I can't imagine a parent who would not be moved by any of the factual or imagined descriptions of his grief and guilt over Willie's death. The reader also feels empathy for Willie of course; the life of a bright and promising child was cut short. The depiction of love between father and son was beautiful.

I guess what I gained from reading this novel was knowledge about this chapter in Lincoln's life. I can't say I gained any new beliefs or insight into an afterlife, as Saunders' interpretation was too fantastical for me.


Kate (arwen_kenobi) | 100 comments Mod
Honestly I think I gained a greater appreciation of what fiction can do and be. I never would have thought that this fantastical concept, odd narrative structure, and the intermixed bits of primary sources would have worked even a little bit and I'm still shocked at that. Impressed to be sure, too!

The empathy ask is pretty big too - you have to engage with everyone and you have to deal with these feelings that all the ghosts have (and often intermittently).

The grief especially though is hard hitting. The tragedy and the guilt involved with the Lincolns on top of the other issues the ghosts have don't really give you a choice but to face it and engage with it. I suppose I gained a greater experience in reading about this sort of subject matter and in processing it, too.


Ashley | 116 comments Mod
I definitely agree with Kate, this book has changed the way I see fiction, and how non-fiction can be interwoven and made to be a narrative and enhance a story. It keeps making me think of In Cold Blood and how Truman Capote used a true story and true events to create a narrative, that wasn't necessarily truth but not completely fiction. At the time Capote was lauded for creating a new genre, the "non-fiction novel." Perhaps this is an extension of that same idea.

In terms of empathy, I felt the most empathy came from the parent-child relationships. I mentioned before I was particularly moved by the mother ghost who realizes her children don't visit because she was a poor parent. But conversely, Lincoln's son can't move on because his love for his father is so strong.


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