36 Books In 2018 #26: Lincoln In The Bardo By George Saunders

There’s a kind of human melancholy to ghost stories that doesn’t exist in other genres, that I’ve always loved. The questions of the afterlife is so deeply ingrained into our society that the idea that perhaps it’s existing beside us, that those who’ve died are still among us, still preoccupied by the troubles of the living world is really bleak when you consider outside of the provenance of the spooky.

Which is why I wasn’t overly shocked, but still moved by the incredible beauty and sadness of Lincoln In The Bardo, which features a cacophony of ghostly voices inhabiting a limbo in a Georgetown cemetary, where young Willie Lincoln, the young son of our most honored Commander In Cheif has recently been interred. Each ghost has a tale, that as his father comes to visit Willie, they try to impart to the boy.

The ghosts don’t know they’re dead for the most part. They know they’re someplace else, in waiting, either to move on, or for a path back to their former world. They fret over their “sick boxes” and their final moments. To stay they have to express their stories, get them out.

We should all be heard, I think is at least part of the point. The other part is that while alive we often don’t share those stories, or don’t notice them. I thought of Our Town a lot while I was reading. The idea of slowing down and seeing our world while we’re still in it, while we can, is ever present in tales like this.

Of course Lincoln In The Bardo also bears the weight of a crux moment in history, illustrated most powerfully in the spirits of slaves tossed into a mass grave, one of whom follows Mr. Lincoln out of the cemetary, mingling his soul with that of the president.

While obviously, the idea that Emancipation occurred because the ghost of a dead house slave, mostly content with his comfortable life, but still struggling against bondage possessed Lincoln, is ridiculous when taken literally, when taken symbolically, it’s beautiful. It’s about awareness, and feeling and connection. About something larger overcoming everything to bring about a great good.

The human condition is somewhat absurd no matter how you slice it. But it’s made beautiful by love, transcendent, deep and beautiful love that lasts beyond all other things.

Up next is How Not To Be A Dick: An Everyday Etiquette Guide by Meghan Doherty, because, hey! Etiquette! Also lightness.

2 thoughts on “36 Books In 2018 #26: Lincoln In The Bardo By George Saunders

    • Thanks so much. I’m not big on audio books, but I’d heard good things about this one. I imagine the structure lends itself well to audio. All those voices.


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