Oh, my… I believe that “Lincoln in the Bardo” is one of the best books I have ever read. I am moved beyond words at this beautiful story, so uniquely told.
The title intrigued me right away, as I am familiar with the Tibetan Buddhist definition of Bardo: “a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.”
Bardo is the “in-between place” a “transitional state,” the period of the afterlife between two states, sort of like a waiting space before you enter into your next birth (or not). I would say this applies to the bereaved, as well as the deceased. If you’ve lost a loved one, you know that it takes some time of grieving before you can transition to the reality of your life without them.
At the time of his 11-year-old son Willie’s death, it was reported that Lincoln often visited the crypt where he was interred to hold his son’s body. Note that: he would go to the mausoleum, pull the corpse out of the coffin, and Hold his son’s Body. The grief that one can feel in that image is the essence of this book and has been fully and imaginatively depicted, told by the deceased in the cemetery who remain in the bardo.
The conversations are more like rambling monologues, all speaking at once, creating a cacophony of thoughts of past lives, current obsessions, and watching as Willie is laid to rest, watching as his father removes him from his “sick box”, watching as Willie waits for his father to return. There are “historic references” interspersed between the dialogues (monologues?) Lincoln does return, and the ending is so True…
The story is told in such a unique way—like a play—and yet each character becomes as real as a dream. I’ve always enjoyed George Saunders’ short stories, but this format is as brilliant as his prose is moving, presenting Lincoln’s grief so poignantly that it will break your heart.
I haven’t done it justice, really. You just need to read this one…
Next up is “A book set in a place you want to visit”….hmmm
definitely not the bardo…