This debut novel by essayist, George Saunders is one of the most innovative and imaginative books I have ever read. Bardo is perfect for the title. It is Tibetan for “in-between place”, and that is exactly where 11-year-old Willie Lincoln finds himself after his death in February 1862 from typhoid fever. His soul, like many others finds itself wandering around the crypt where he has just been buried. Children, it seems, never linger long in the bardo, but Willie refuses to go. He knows his father is coming to get him.
Lincoln in the Bardo is based on one small historical fact. After his son, Willie’s death in 1862, President Lincoln was known to visit his crypt at night. A president visiting a cemetery alone in the middle of the night would be unheard of today. It seems that even in Lincoln’s time, it was considered strange behavior.
This book asks the same questions about the Civil War that my history classes did in college: Did the untimely death of Willie make Abraham Lincoln a better president? Did losing a son himself make him better qualified to ask others to send their own sons in to battle? This unique approach by George Saunders is definitely worth reading.
~ Leslie W.