“All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be.
It was the nature of things.
Though on the surface is seemed every person was different, this was not true.
At the core of each lay suffering; our eventual end; the many losses we must experience on the way to that end.
We must try to see one another in this way.
As suffering limited beings-
Perennially outmatched by circumstance, inadequately endowed with compensatory graces. “ George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
Trying to review Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a fairly impossible thing to do, so I will just try to convey how it made me feel. Fair warning to you, it will break your heart. And by ‘break’ I mean it will tear your still beating heart out of your chest and play with it a minute before throwing it on the ground and calling it stupid. It took me a couple of weeks to get through it because sometimes I was frankly not in any state to read it. Actual picture of me reading this book:
First, what is a bardo? Because I had never heard that word, but maybe you’re a lot smarter than I am. Bardo is a Tibetan word that refers (loosely) to the state of existence between two lives. Some call this purgatory but it refers to the time after the physical life on earth and before the next life, whatever that may be.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a story about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s eleven-year-old son, Willie, at the beginning of the Civil War. After Willie died, he was interred in a crypt and President Lincoln began to visit him at night; visit and actually hold Willie (stay with me). The novel takes place over the course of one night, and swings wildly from conversations between ghosts in the graveyard to pieces of historical texts about Lincoln’s grief and pain and his behavior in the aftermath of his son’s death.
This sounds semi-ridiculous as I try to explain it and yet I cannot overstate how incredibly beautiful the writing is and how much love and sadness and pain is conveyed in this very strange story. All I can really say is… read it. But not in public. You’re welcome.
Lincoln in the Bardo – Grade A