In brief, describe the plot of Lincoln in the Bardo.
Lincoln in the Bardo tells two separate stories: the story of young Willie Lincoln and his father, Abraham; and the story of a community of ghosts bound to live inside a Washington cemetery, and both cross paths throughout the entire book, which takes place over a single day.
Lincoln in the Bardo is a fascinating story that winds its way through death, life, love, and freedom. It also winds it’s way through characters- the story is narrated by three main characters who bounce thoughts off of each other, while others interject thoughts along the way.
In George Saunder’s version of life (and death, for that matter), a community of ghosts co-exists with humans, though restricted to the cemetery and forced to hide during the daylight. You might think these ghosts have superpowers, though- apart from the usual pass through objects, fly through air fanfare, these ghosts can insert themselves into humans (a very particular one, in this case), listen to their thoughts, and even convince them of acting a certain way by influencing their thoughts.
But no, this isn’t a science fiction novel (not the way I see it). Lincoln in the Bardo takes place during the Civil War, and even interjects pieces of writing from the actual time period (from real life).
All the while struggling with commanding the Union Army, Abraham Lincoln must suffer through the premature death of his son, Willie. Passing away from fever at the age of 12, Willie’s death breaks the heart of Abe- and brings thoughts of doubt and self- regret. There was no hope anymore for Lincoln.
*By the way- in this review, I’m referring to Willie Lincoln as Willie and Abraham Lincoln as Lincoln.
As Willie is laid to rest at the cemetery, his new form (as a ghost) rises from his human body and is greeted by other ghosts, whom I’ll name later. This is nothing but usual. Well, that is, until Willie doesn’t, er, move on. His soul remains in the cemetery- and that shouldn’t be happening.
In Lincoln in the Bardo, you’ll read about why this happened, how (and why) other ghosts also suffered similar fates, all the while being sucked into a constantly developing plot. As Lincoln struggles with the loss of his son, he revisits the cemetery late at night to visit Willie one last time. From there, a heartwarming story begins.
You’ll love reading about the unbreakable connection between Lincoln and Willie, and how they stayed with each other (if not physically) until the very last moment. Though Willie is constantly bombarded with hoards of ghosts so curious about the miracle that had occurred, three ghosts (the main characters) step through and work to help Willie accept this unfortunate turn of events and reconnect him with his father for a few last ‘words’, so that Willie would move on as he was supposed to (for one can only consume to the matterlightbooming phenomenon when one is mentally prepared, in most cases).
These ghosts, who had never seen so much excitement in their (after)lives, are willing to team up together to convince Lincoln to revisit the cemetery, while allowing for Willie to re-enter his sick-form (you’ll understand what that means once you read the book) and hear his fathers last words to him.
By doing this, they not only help Willie reconnect with his father, but they allow for the ghost community to begin to see the beauty in each other that was left behind, recognize the lives they once had, accept their fate and have hope in themselves, and realize, for once in their lives, that they. are. actually. dead.
I’ll leave you with that. But there’s so much more to it- you’ll want to read Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel by George Saunders.
Read on for more of my review, where I cover the characters, issues, my thoughts, and more on one of my favorite reads so far.
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