Lincoln in the Bardo Review

When I was about 11 years old, I watched a made-for-TV movie about Abraham Lincoln titled, Tad.  It starred my crush at the time, Bug Hall, as Lincoln’s son Tad, as well as Jane Curtain as Mary Todd Lincoln and Kris Kristofferson as Abe Lincoln.  I don’t remember much about it, but that movie changed my life in two major ways:

  1. It was the motivation behind me wanting to take up the trumpet, which became a massive part of my middle school, high school, and college career
  2. It instituted in me a life-long obsession with Abraham Lincoln

If you’re REALLY interested in watching Tad, it is available on YouTube.  I’ve been on the fence about wanting to watch it again, but you can check it out in all its glory right here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBedzZ7QAW0

I honestly can’t tell you what it was about the movie that made me love Lincoln so much…but it was enough for me to ask for a family trip to Springfield, IL so I could dwell in Lincoln nostalgia.  It was enough for my family to start buying me any book with “Abraham Lincoln” in the title.  It was even enough for me to dress up like Abraham Lincoln for Halloween one year and have an Abraham Lincoln-inspired birthday cake.  The love was real, guys.

I still have a soft spot in my heart for Honest Abe…and I think I always will.  I still gravitate to TV shows, movies and books about him, which is what led me to pick up today’s book, Lincoln in the Bardo.

Image result for lincoln in the bardo book cover

Told from the perspective of several ghosts two nights after Abe Lincoln loses his son, Willie, to typhoid fever, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is unlike anything I’ve ever read before.  Organized more like a play than a novel, this book begs for a stage or film adaptation, and a rather creepy one at that (word is that actor Nick Offerman and his wife, Megan Mullally have purchased film rights to this book…so read it before it hits theaters)!

The entire book is set over the course of one night and is narrated by a handful of spirits, some long since dead, some only recently so, and is a thrilling exploration on death, grief, the afterlife, and the powers of good and evil.

In Tibetian Buddhism, The Bardo is a sort of limbo state between death and rebirth into the next life.  Willie Lincoln lingers there, unable to move forward, along with a collection of spirits who are all being held back for one reason or another.  And Abe, who would often visit the crypt of Willie after his death to stroke his face and hair (true story), also lingers in a bardo of sorts, trying to steer the country forward during the brink of the Civil War while also dealing with the death of his beloved child.  If that’s not enough to break your heart, Willie’s narration throughout the book helps give insight into Abe Lincoln’s character as only a son can…with deep understanding, respect, and love.

I’m gonna be honest…this book was hard to read at times…not because of the content, but just because of the way it’s written.  It’s different.  There are parts that are repetitive and there are parts that don’t really flow, but as you read on, things begin to make sense…and though it’s not a heart-racing dash to the big finish, the ending is just what you need it to be…honest and meaningful and bittersweet.

Lincoln in the Bardo stands up to its reputation of being bizarre and irreverent; heartbreaking and surreal.  It’s a profound meditation on grief, loss, and how painful it is to let go of something we hold dear.  It’s not for everyone, but for those who look for a book that will challenge you to think differently or a book that will help give you perspective, you cannot go wrong with at least giving this book a try.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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