Lincoln in the bardo by George Saunders
Published: February 14th 2017 by Random House
Genre: Fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction
“Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear. These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and, in this way, brought them forth. And now we must lose them.”
Once in a blue moon, you pick up a book so special that as you read it, it becomes part of you and you know it will never leave your being. This is that for me. And at the same time, I can totally understand the people going – ugh, no! It’s a love it or hate it kind of artistry, because that it what it is, it’s art, pure and simple. This is not just a book that has been written. It is in exquisite piece of work, that has created a new life by cutting pieces of other writings. (I’m fighting the urge to compare it to Frankenstein, ah well….) It comes alive! And especially in the “dialogue” performed by the lingering souls.
There’s a seed of truth in the story, cut out pieces of history, and there’s a great imagined story that surrounds it. One so careful and tender that I lost sense of it at times. It takes some concentration to follow and get through it as the language isn’t exactly what we know and speak daily.
It is the story of the night Abraham Lincoln’s son passes from typhoid fever at only twelve years of age and his soul lingers in the bardo. President Lincoln visits to hold his son and the grief throughout the book is palpable.
Some chapters were so beautiful, I cried. Other chapters were harder to get through; remember, it’s a full 343 pages of quoted passages and dialogue between hundreds of year old ghosts!
“He came out of nothingness, took form, was loved, was always bound to return to nothingness. Only I did not think it would be so soon. Or that he would precede us. Two passing temporarinesses developed feelings for one another. Two puffs of smoke became mutually fond. I mistook him for a solidity, and now must pay. I am not stable and Mary not stable and the very buildings and monuments here not stable and the greater city not stable and the wide world not stable. All alter, are altering, in every instant.”
If you’re into the magic that can come from the lyrical and supernatural, then this might be just your thing. I know I’ve never read anything like it and it is one of those that will stay with me.