I’ve never read a book quite like Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. It’s unique in both content and construction, so I’ll talk about them both, because I think one informs the other.
Content: Willie Lincoln, one of Abraham Lincoln’s four sons, died of typhoid fever at age 11 in 1862. By all accounts of the day and historical scholarship, his death was devastating to the president and Mrs. Lincoln. He died on a night when the president and Mrs. Lincoln were hosting a long-planned and politically important party at the White House, and during the early years of the Civil War. For several nights after Willie’s funeral, witnesses saw Mr. Lincoln visit the cemetery, enter the mausoleum where Willie was interred, and stay for a long time. This is all historical fact, and we learn about these facts and their historical implications and interpretations in chapters composed of quotes from history books, old letters, first person accounts, and so on, cited by Saunders. Continue reading